Perihelion evolution of observed new comets implies the dominance of the galactic tide in making Oort cloud comets discernable
For an Oort cloud comet to be seen as a new comet, its perihelion must be moved from a point exterior to the loss cylinder boundary to a point interior to observable limits in a single orbit. The galactic tide can do this continuously, in a non-impulsive manner. Near-parabolic comets, with specific angular momentum H∝ √q, will most easily be made observable. Therefore, to reduce the perihelion distance H must decrease. Since weakly perturbed comets are, in general, more numerous than strongly perturbed comets, we can anticipate that new comets made observable by a weak tidal torque will more likely be first observed when their slowly changing perihelion distances are approaching their minimum osculating values under the action of the tide, rather than receding from their minimum values. That is, defining Δ Htide as the vector change due to the galactic tidal torque during the prior orbit, and Hobs as the observed vector, the sign S≡Sign( Hobs·Δ Htide) will more likely be -1 than +1 if a weak galactic tidal perturbation indeed dominates in making comets observable. Using comet data of the highest quality class (1A) for new comets ( a>10,000 AU), we find that 49 comets have S=-1 and 22 have S=+1. The binomial probability that as many or more would exhibit this characteristic if in fact S=∓1 were equally likely is only 0.0009. This characteristic also persists in other long-period comet populations, lending support to the notion that they are dominated by comets recently arrived from the outer Oort cloud. The preponderance of S=-1 also correlates with weakly perturbed (i.e., smaller semimajor axis) new comets in a statistically significant manner. This is strong evidence that the data are of sufficiently high quality and sufficiently free of observational selection effects to detect this unique imprint of the tide.