Astronomers discover activity on distant centaur planet

Centaurs are minor planets that have originated in the Kuiper Belt in the outer solar system, sometimes comprised of comet-like features. Despite orbiting around planets Jupiter and Saturn where the temperature is too cold, the water readily sublimes from solid to gas. 

Since 1927, only 18 active Centaurs have been found. Consequently, the objects are poorly understood, specifically due to the objects being observationally challenging, faint, and rare.

Colin Chandler, a doctoral student and presidential fellow, leads a team of astronomers in Northern Arizona’s University astronomy and planetary science Ph.D. program. Earlier this year, his team announced the discovery of activity emanating from centre 2014OG392. They published their findings in a paper in Astrophysical Journal letter “Cometary activity discovered on a distant Centaur.”

Chandler is the lead author working with 4 Northern Arizona’s University’s co-authors: 

Graduate student Jay Kueny, Associate Professor Chad Trujillo, Professor David Trilling, and a Ph.D. student William Oldread. 

The team’s research involved creating an algorithm that will find out archival images of centre, plus the newly found ones as part of their follow-up observational campaign. 

“Our paper reports of Discovery activity emanating 2014OG392, based on the archival images we uncovered, plus our newly observational evidence acquired with the Dark Energy Camera at Inter – American Observatory in Cerro Tolosa, Chile, the Walter Baade Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and Large Monolithic imager Lowell’s Observatory’s  Discovery Channel Telescope, in Happy Jack, Arizona,” Chandler said. 

“We detected, coma as far as 4 lakh kilometer (400,000 kilometers) away from 2014OG392 and our analysis of sublimation process and dynamical measurements suggest that carbon dioxide and methane are the most suitable candidates for converting ice into water on this and other Centaurs,” said Chandler. 

Due to the team’s discovery, the centre has been reclassified as a comet and will be known as C/2014OG392 (PANTSTARRS)

“I am very excited that the minor planet has been awarded a comet designation befitting the activity was discovered on our unused object.” He said.

Chandler has been invited to present the results at the 52nd division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). 




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