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 New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective
14.12.2017 | The Optical Society

nachricht New ultra-thin diamond membrane is a radiobiologist's best friend
14.12.2017 | American Institute of Physics

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: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests

14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective

14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility

14.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>