A targeted search for Main Belt Comets

Ferellec, Léa; Snodgrass, Colin; Fitzsimmons, Alan; Rożek, Agata; Gardener, Daniel; Smith, Richard; Medeiros, Hissa; Opitom, Cyrielle; Hsieh, Henry H.
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Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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Main Belt Comets (MBCs) exhibit sublimation-driven activity while occupying asteroid-like orbits in the Main Asteroid Belt. MBCs and candidates show stronger clustering of their longitudes of perihelion around 15° than other objects from the Outer Main Belt (OMB). This potential property of MBCs could facilitate the discovery of new candidates by observing objects in similar orbits. We acquired deep r-band images of 534 targeted asteroids using the Isaac Newton Telescope/Wide Field Camera between 2018 and 2020. Our sample is comprised of OMB objects observed near perihelion, with longitudes of perihelion between 0 and 30° and orbital parameters similar to known MBCs. Our pipeline applied activity detection methods to 319 of these objects to look for tails or comae, and we visually inspected the remaining asteroids. Our activity detection pipeline highlighted a faint antisolar tail-like feature around 2001 NL19 (279870) observed on 2018 November 07, 6 months after perihelion. This is consistent with cometary activity; however, additional observations of this object will be needed during its next perihelion to investigate its potential MBC status. If it is active our survey yields a detection rate of ~1:300, which is higher than previous similar surveys, supporting the idea of dynamical clustering of MBCs. If not, it is consistent with previously estimated abundance rates of MBCs in the OMB (<1:500).
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