On Aug 4, 2013 an apparently asteroidal object was discovered by the Pan STARRS1 (PS1) survey telescope on Haleakala at magnitude 20.4 (corresponding to a nucleus radius between 1.4-2.9 km for albedos between 0.25-0.04). PS1 pre-recovery images taken on July 26 and on Aug. 3 allowed a good orbit to be determined. The orbit looks like that of a long-period comet with a semi major axis of 2720 AU and an eccentricity of 0.999. Shortly following the discovery, reports from small telescopes came in that there was low level activity associated with this object (at r = 3.45 AU), and the object was designated P/2013 P2 (Pan STARRS). The activity was not seen in images obtained with PS1, the Faulkes N telescope or the CFHT 3.6m, however the object was passing through a region of significant nebulosity. Deep images obtained on the CFHT on Aug. 8 and follow up images obtained with the Gemini North 8m telescope on Sep. 9 showed a very faint tail extending a few arcsec to PA=45 deg (inconsistent with the earlier reports). The object was observed using several facilities up until solar conjunction, and again after perihelion (Feb. 17, 2014) in March, with little increase in activity. A search of the NEOWISE archives show no detection during the cryogenic and immediate pos-cryogenic phases, so we can only place an upper limit on the nucleus size from these data. An object on a long-period comet orbit at this heliocentric distance typically should be very active, and our team hypothesized that this could either be a nearly-extinct comet or possibly inner solar system material ejected to the outer solar system during planet migration as predicted by various dynamical models. To distinguish between these scenarios, we obtained both optical and near-IR spectra of P/2013 P2 on 2014 May 7 and 21, when the object was at r=2.97 and 2.99 AU, respectively. Initial reductions show no emission lines. We will report on our spectra and imaging data, and discuss the implications for the origin of this object. This work was supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
AAS/Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Abstracts #46
- Pub Date:
- November 2014