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Comet P/2010 A2, an Activated Asteroid from the Main Asteroid Belt

ING web news release
23 July, 2010

Comet-like object P/2010 A2 was discovered by the LINEAR survey on January 6, 2010. Service observations carried out using ACAM on the William Herschel Telescope on January 21, 2010, show an asteroidal nucleus detached from the dust tail (see Figure 1). Owing to its orbital parameters and its cometary appearance, the object is classified as a main-belt comet, in other words, an activated asteroid from the main asteroid belt. Comet P/2010 A2's orbit is the nearest to the Sun known so far, for this kind of object (semi-major axis of 2.29 AU).

Figure 1. Image of the nucleus of P/2010 A2 (indicated with an arrow) and the dust tail, detached from the asteroid. This image was obtained with ACAM on the WHT on January 21, 2010. The x- and y-axes are labelled in kilometers, and the direction of the Sun is to the right. This object is the first Main-Belt Comet discovered at heliocentric distances as small as 2 AU (figure extracted from F. Moreno et al., 2010, ApJ, 718, L132). [ JPEG | TIFF ].

Modelling of the dust feature indicates that the asteroid became active in late March 2009, reached maximum activity in early June 2009 with a dust loss mass rate of about 5 kg/s, and ceased activity in early December 2009. The size of the particles ejected was between 0.001 and 1 cm, with speeds compatible with water-ice-drive cometary activity at such heliocentric distances.

The diameter of the asteroid is estimated at 220±40 m, and dust in the tail accounts for about 0.3% of the object mass.

While the event may have been triggered by a collision, this cannot be confirmed with the available observations, but in any case the models indicate that sustained activity over a period of some eight months is required to explain the observations.

More information:

F. Moreno, J. Licandro, G.-P. Tozzi, J.L. Ortiz, A. Cabrera-Lavers, T. Augusteijn, T. Liimets, J.E. Lindberg, T. Pursimo, P. Rodríguez-Gil, O. Vaduvescu, 2009, "Water-ice driven activity on Main-Belt Comet P/2010 A2 (LINEAR) ?", ApJ, 718, L132. Astro-ph | ApJ.

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Last modified: 22 December 2010