Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UA Catalina Sky Survey Discovers Possible Extinct Comet

27.12.2010
The extraterrestrial rock is tumbling through space alongside thousands of similar objects in our solar system's main asteroid belt, roughly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

An asteroid discovered more than 100 years ago my not be an asteroid at all, but an extinct comet that is coming back to life, according to new observations.

The night of Dec. 11, Steve Larson, senior staff scientist with the Catalina Sky Survey, was searching for potentially hazardous asteroids when he came across what looked like a comet: a faint, wispy tail surrounding a bright, star-like core. Four images taken over the course of 30 minutes revealed the object was moving relative to the background stars.

"Its brightness of a total magnitude of 13.4 visual, which is about 900 times fainter than the faintest star you can see in a clear, dark sky, led me to suspect that it was a known comet, but I checked the comet database and got nothing," Larson said.

According to Larson, comets are thought to be a major source of Earth's water, and "extinct" comets may be useful resources for space exploration.

Further investigation revealed that the object was a known asteroid called (596) Scheila, discovered in 1906. The extraterrestrial rock is tumbling through space alongside thousands of similar objects in our solar system's main asteroid belt, roughly between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, out of the ecliptic plane in which most planets and asteroids travel.

Catalina Sky Survey team member Alex Gibbs checked previous images in the survey's archives but found no activity until Dec. 3. At that time, the object appeared brighter and slightly diffuse.

Previous analysis of (596) Scheila's color indicated that it is composed of primitive carbonaceous material left over from the formation of the solar system and might be an extinct comet.

After the discovery was announced, the astronomical community responded by pointing many of the world's largest telescopes at the object to obtain images and spectra to determine if its tail consists of ice and gases spewing out of the body or if it is dust left behind from a collision with another asteroid. Preliminary spectra of the outburst show that the coma surrounding the asteroid is composed of dust, but more observations will be needed to understand just what is happening with (596) Scheila.

"Most asteroids are collision fragments from larger asteroids and display a range of mineral composition," Larson explained. "But a fraction are thought to be former comets whose volatile ices have been driven off by the sun. If the activity in Scheila proves to be cometary in nature, this will be only the sixth known main-belt comet, and about 100 times larger than previously identified main belt comets."

In 1998, Larson founded the Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-supported project to discover and catalog Earth-approaching and potentially hazardous asteroids. It operates two telescopes in the Catalina Mountains and one in Australia and is currently discovering 70 percent of the world's known near-Earth objects, including one that fell in northern Sudan in 2008.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Steve Larson, Catalina Sky Survey, (520) 621-4973, slarson@lpl.arizona.edu

Steve Larson | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Electrocatalysis can advance green transition
23.01.2017 | Technical University of Denmark

nachricht Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin
23.01.2017 | Ferdinand-Braun-Institut Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>