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THE ACTIVE CENTAURS

THE ACTIVE CENTAURS The Centaurs are recent escapees from the Kuiper Belt that are destined either to meet fiery oblivion in the hot inner regions of the solar system or to be ejected to the interstellar medium by gravitational scattering from the giant planets. Dynamically evolved Centaurs, when captured by Jupiter and close enough to the Sun for near-surface water ice to sublimate, are conventionally labeled as short-period (specifically, Jupiter-family) comets. Remarkably, some Centaurs show comet-like activity even when far beyond the orbit of Jupiter, suggesting mass loss driven by a process other than the sublimation of water ice. We observed a sample of 23 Centaurs and found nine to be active, with mass-loss rates measured from several kg s1 to several tonnes s1. Considered as a group, we find that the active Centaurs in our sample have perihelia smaller than the inactive Centaurs (median 5.9 AU versus 8.7 AU), and smaller than the median perihelion distance computed for all known Centaurs (12.4 AU). This suggests that their activity is thermally driven. We consider several possibilities for the origin of the mass loss from the active Centaurs. Most are too cold for activity at the observed levels to originate via the sublimation of crystalline water ice. Solid carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide have the opposite problem: they are so volatile that they should drive activity in Centaurs at much larger distances than observed. We consider the possibility that activity in the Centaurs is triggered by the conversion of amorphous ice into the crystalline form accompanied by the release of trapped gases, including carbon monoxide. By imposing the condition that crystallization should occur when the crystallization time is shorter than the orbital period we find a qualitative match to the perihelion distribution of the active Centaurs and conclude that the data are consistent with the hypothesis that the Centaurs contain amorphous ice. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Astronomical Journal IOP Publishing

THE ACTIVE CENTAURS

The Astronomical Journal , Volume 137 (5) – May 1, 2009
17 pages

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References (74)

Copyright
Copyright © 2009. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
ISSN
0004-6256
eISSN
1538-3881
DOI
10.1088/0004-6256/137/5/4296
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

The Centaurs are recent escapees from the Kuiper Belt that are destined either to meet fiery oblivion in the hot inner regions of the solar system or to be ejected to the interstellar medium by gravitational scattering from the giant planets. Dynamically evolved Centaurs, when captured by Jupiter and close enough to the Sun for near-surface water ice to sublimate, are conventionally labeled as short-period (specifically, Jupiter-family) comets. Remarkably, some Centaurs show comet-like activity even when far beyond the orbit of Jupiter, suggesting mass loss driven by a process other than the sublimation of water ice. We observed a sample of 23 Centaurs and found nine to be active, with mass-loss rates measured from several kg s1 to several tonnes s1. Considered as a group, we find that the active Centaurs in our sample have perihelia smaller than the inactive Centaurs (median 5.9 AU versus 8.7 AU), and smaller than the median perihelion distance computed for all known Centaurs (12.4 AU). This suggests that their activity is thermally driven. We consider several possibilities for the origin of the mass loss from the active Centaurs. Most are too cold for activity at the observed levels to originate via the sublimation of crystalline water ice. Solid carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide have the opposite problem: they are so volatile that they should drive activity in Centaurs at much larger distances than observed. We consider the possibility that activity in the Centaurs is triggered by the conversion of amorphous ice into the crystalline form accompanied by the release of trapped gases, including carbon monoxide. By imposing the condition that crystallization should occur when the crystallization time is shorter than the orbital period we find a qualitative match to the perihelion distribution of the active Centaurs and conclude that the data are consistent with the hypothesis that the Centaurs contain amorphous ice.

Journal

The Astronomical JournalIOP Publishing

Published: May 1, 2009

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