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Astron. Astrophys. 342, 285-299 (1999)

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Multiple fragmentation of comet Machholz 2 (P/1994 P1)

Zdenek Sekanina

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA

Received 4 September 1998 / Accepted 23 October 1998


Discovered in August of 1994, periodic comet Machholz 2 consisted of five condensations, A-E, of which D later became double. They were lined up along their common heliocentric orbit (with A being the leading and brightest component) and connected by a trail of material, suggesting that the comet's nuclear fragmentation was accompanied by a copious release of large dust particles. The earliest breakup is found to have occurred in late 1987, [FORMULA]600 days before the comet's 1989 perihelion, giving birth to fragment B and the grand precursor of A. The precursors of A and D and fragments A and C appear to have originated, respectively, [FORMULA]5 days prior to and right at perihelion. The last breakup episode during that same return to the Sun was the separation of E, probably from the precursor of D, [FORMULA]600 days after perihelion. The division of D into D1 and D2 is the only event analyzed in this paper that occurred one revolution later, in 1994. The circumstances and implications of this fragmentation sequence are examined in detail and predictions are presented for 1999/2000.

Key words: comets: general – comets: individual: P/Machholz-2

Send offprint requests to: Zdenek Sekanina

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 1999

Online publication: December 22, 1998