The near-Earth comet P/2016 BA14 (PanSTARRS) is a slow-rotating, nearly dormant object, a likely dynamical twin of 252P/LINEAR, and was recently shown to have a mid-infrared spectrum very dissimilar to other comets. Comet BA14 was also recently selected as one of the backup targets for the ESA’s Comet Interceptor, so a clearer understanding of BA14’s modern properties would not just improve our understanding of how comets go dormant but could also aid in planning for a potential spacecraft visit. We present observations of BA14 during its 2016 Earth close approach taken with the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on two dates, both of which are consistent with direct observations of its nucleus. The reflectance spectrum of BA14 is similar to 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, albeit highly phase-reddened. Thermal emission contaminates the reflectance spectrum at longer wavelengths, which we correct with a new Markov Chain Monte Carlo thermal modeling code. The models suggest that BA14’s visible geometric albedo is pV = 0.01–0.03, consistent with radar observations; its beaming parameter is typical for NEOs observed in its geometry; and its reflectance spectrum is red and linear throughout the H and K bands. It appears very much like a “normal” comet nucleus despite its mid-infrared oddities. A slow loss of fine grains as the object’s activity diminished might help to reconcile some of the lines of evidence, and we discuss other possibilities. A spacecraft flyby past BA14 could get closer to the nucleus than with a more active target, and we highlight some science questions that could be addressed with a visit to a (nearly) dormant comet.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science