Observations of Jupiter family comet 252P/LINEAR during a close approach to Earth reveal large abundances of Methanol and Ethane
We observed short-period comet 252P/LINEAR post-perihelion during its 2016 passage, which presented a favorable opportunity to survey its chemical composition at a close Earth approach (~0.14 au). We characterized the comet's chemical composition on four dates (UT 2016 April 12, 19, 26, and 29) using spectroscopic measurements with the Near-infrared Spectrograph (NIRSPEC) at the Keck Observatory on Maunakea, HI. Our high-resolution infrared spectra yielded production rates for four species (H2O, CH3OH, C2H6, and HCN) and upper limits for five species (NH3, H2CO, C2H2, CO, and CH4). We measured water at an average production rate of 4.9 ± 0.1 × 1027 molec s−1. The chemical properties of 252P suggest a rather typical composition, yet somewhat enriched in methanol and ethane but low in formaldehyde (upper limit) compared to other short-period comets surveyed at infrared wavelengths. Analysis of the ortho/para ratio in water indicates a nuclear spin temperature larger than ~38 K, consistent with statistical equilibrium (2σ). Spatial distributions of gases, which are representative of possible heterogeneity in the nucleus and/or gas dynamics upon sublimation, showed rather symmetric profiles, with subtle enhancements of the more volatile species C2H6 and HCN toward the sunward hemisphere, while water showed spatial distributions that were extended toward the anti-sunward hemisphere. The continuum was characterized by a narrow distribution. We place our infrared results in the context of observations with the Discovery Channel Telescope, the James Clerk Maxwell submillimeter Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope.