The process will not be completed until 2063

Like the myth of half-human beings, half equal creatures, the central systems of the solar system are hybrids between asteroids and comets. Now, astronomers have captured a transformation from one type of space to another, which could provide scientists with an unprecedented opportunity to observe the shape of a comet in real-time for decades. to come up.

“We had the opportunity here to see the birth of a comet when it became active,” said Kat Volk, a scientist at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

An object called P / 2019 LD2 was discovered by the ATLAS Telescope in Hawaii in May. Its orbit suggests that it is a centaur, a class of rocky, icy objects without stable orbits. Due to the mixed makeup and the potential to roam the solar system, astronomers have long suspected that centaurs are a missing link between the small ice bodies in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune and visiting comets. regularly the internal solar system (SN: 11/19 / 94).

These “short-lived” comets, believed to originate from frozen objects in the Kuiper Belt, orbit the Sun about every ten years and appear repeatedly in the Earth’s sky. (Long-range comets such as Halley’s Comet, which visit the solar system once a century, probably originate more from the Sun in the Oort Cloud (SN: 10/25/13).)
All of the short-term comets found previously were only discovered after their transformation into comets (SN: 6/8/14). But LD2 recently came from the Kuiper Belt and will be a comet in just 43 years, Volk and colleagues reported on August 10 on

“It’s funny to think this thing should be a comet when I retire,” Volk said.

In 2019, he and his colleagues showed that there was a space region directly behind Jupiter that they called the “gateway.” In this area, tiny planetary objects hang out while warming and moving with their long tails from the ice balls of the outer solar system to the comets of the inner solar system. It’s like a comet incubator, says scientist Gal Sarid of the SETI Institute in Rockville, Maryland.

After Volk, Sarid, and their colleagues discover LD2, they mimic thousands of possible trajectories to see where the object is and where it is going. The LD2 orbit likely landed near Saturn around 1850 and entered the current orbit behind Jupiter in 2017 after a close encounter with the gas giant. The object will leave its current orbit and move around Sunday, 2063, where solar heat is likely to slow the volatile elements of LD2 and give it a shiny tail, the researchers say.

“It will be the first comet in history that we know of because we saw it before the comet,” Sarid said.

The fact that LD2 is relatively new inside the solar system suggests that it is made from a relatively clean material that has been in the solar system’s freezer for billions of years and is not altered by solar heat. This would make it one of the first solar capsule systems. The study of its composition will help scientists on the planet to know which were the first planets.

The orbital analysis seems “very reasonable,” said Henry Hsieh, a planetary scientist at the Honolulu-based Planetary Science Institute who was not involved in the study. However, just learning something transitional is not enough to open the solar system’s time capsule.

“What we really need to do is study a lot of them,” he says. “Study it first, then some more, and see if this thing is a top or if we see a consistent picture.” Future sky surveys, as planned in the future Vera Rubin Observatory (SN: 1/10/20), are expected to find more ice balls moving in comets.

Sarid and his colleagues believe LD2 could be an excellent target for a spacecraft. NASA plans to send spacecraft to the centers, although no missions have yet been selected for development. Since LD2 is a comet in just a few decades, scientists don’t have much time to plan, build, and launch a mission to visit it. “The windows are closing,” Sarid said. “We have to do it now.”


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