Debiasing the NEOWISE cryogenic mission comet populations

James M. Bauer, Tommy Grav, Yanga R. Fernández, A. K. Mainzer, Emily A. Kramer, Joseph R. Masiero, Timothy Spahr, C. R. Nugent, Rachel A. Stevenson, Karen J. Meech, Roc M. Cutri, Carey M. Lisse, Russell Walker, John W. Dailey, Joshua Rosser, Phillip Krings, Kinjal Ruecker, Edward L. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


We use NEOWISE data from the four-band and three-band cryogenic phases of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission to constrain size distributions of the comet populations and debias measurements of the short- and long-period comet (LPC) populations. We find that the fit to the debiased LPC population yields a cumulative size-frequency distribution (SFD) power-law slope (β) of -1.0 0.1, while the debiased Jupiter-family comet (JFC) SFD has a steeper slope with β = -2.3 0.2. The JFCs in our debiased sample yielded a mean nucleus size of 1.3 km in diameter, while the LPCs' mean size is roughly twice as large, 2.1 km, yielding mean size ratios () that differ by a factor of 1.6. Over the course of the 8 months of the survey, our results indicate that the number of LPCs passing within 1.5 au are a factor of several higher than previous estimates, while JFCs are within the previous range of estimates of a few thousand down to sizes near 1.3 km in diameter. Finally, we also observe evidence for structure in the orbital distribution of LPCs, with an overdensity of comets clustered near 110 inclination and perihelion near 2.9 au that is not attributable to observational bias.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number53
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • comets
  • general infrared
  • planetary systems Oort Cloud surveys

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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