The Discovery of Cometary Activity in Near-Earth Asteroid (3552) Don Quixote

Michael Mommert, Joseph L. Hora, Alan W. Harris, William T. Reach, Joshua P. Emery, Cristina A. Thomas, Michael Mueller, Dale P. Cruikshank, David E. Trilling, Marco Delbo, Howard A. Smith

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Samenvatting

The near-Earth object (NEO) population, which mainly consists of fragments from collisions between asteroids in the main asteroid belt, is thought to include contributions from short-period comets as well. One of the most promising NEO candidates for a cometary origin is near-Earth asteroid (3552) Don Quixote, which has never been reported to show activity. Here we present the discovery of cometary activity in Don Quixote based on thermal-infrared observations made with the Spitzer Space Telescope in its 3.6 and 4.5 {\mu}m bands. Our observations clearly show the presence of a coma and a tail in the 4.5 {\mu}m but not in the 3.6 {\mu}m band, which is consistent with molecular band emission from CO2. Thermal modeling of the combined photometric data on Don Quixote reveals a diameter of 18.4 (-0.4/+0.3) km and an albedo of 0.03 (-0.01/+0.02), which confirms Don Quixote to be the third-largest known NEO. We derive an upper limit on the dust production rate of 1.9 kg s^-1 and derive a CO2 gas production rate of (1.1+-0.1)10^26 molecules s^-1. Spitzer IRS spectroscopic observations indicate the presence of fine-grained silicates, perhaps pyroxene rich, on the surface of Don Quixote. Our discovery suggests that CO2 can be present in near-Earth space over a long time. The presence of CO2 might also explain that Don Quixote's cometary nature remained hidden for nearly three decades.
Originele taal-2English
Artikelnummer25
Aantal pagina's10
TijdschriftThe Astrophysical Journal
Volume781
Nummer van het tijdschrift1
DOI's
StatusPublished - 20-jan-2014

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