A sublime opportunity: The dynamics of transitioning cometary bodies and the feasibility of in situ observations of the evolution of their activity

Darryl Z. Seligman, Kaitlin M. Kratter, W. Garrett Levine, Robert Jedicke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The compositional and morphological evolution of minor bodies in the solar system is primarily driven by the evolution of their heliocentric distances, as the level of incident solar radiation regulates cometary activity. We investigate the dynamical transfer of Centaurs into the inner solar system, facilitated by mean motion resonances with Jupiter and Saturn. The recently discovered object P/2019 LD2 will transition from the Centaur region to the inner solar system in 2063. In order to contextualize LD2, we perform N-body simulations of a population of Centaurs and Jupiter-family comets. Objects between Jupiter and Saturn with Tisserand parameter TJ ∼ 3 are transferred onto orbits with perihelia q < 4 au within the next 1000 yr with notably high efficiency. Our simulations show that there may be additional LD2-like objects transitioning into the inner solar system in the near future, all of which have low δV with respect to Jupiter. We calculate the distribution of orbital elements resulting from a single Jovian encounter and show that objects with initial perihelia close to Jupiter are efficiently scattered to q < 4 au. Moreover, approximately 55% of the transitioning objects in our simulated population experience at least one Jovian encounter prior to reaching q < 4 au. We demonstrate that a spacecraft stationed near Jupiter would be well positioned to rendezvous, orbit-match, and accompany LD2 into the inner solar system, providing an opportunity to observe the onset of intense activity in a pristine comet in situ. Finally, we discuss the prospect of identifying additional targets for similar measurements with forthcoming observational facilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number234
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Volume2
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geophysics

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