NOAO >   Observing Info >   Approved Programs >   2012B-0418

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Proposal Information for 2012B-0418


PI: Henry Hsieh, University of Hawaii (IfA), hsieh@ifa.hawaii.edu
Address: Institute for Astronomy, 2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

CoI: Bin Yang, University of Hawaii (IfA)
CoI: Chad Trujillo, Gemini Observatory

Title: The Sublimation-Driven Nature of Main-Belt Comet Activity

Abstract: We seek GMOS-S time to obtain target-of-opportunity spectroscopy of a bright newly-discovered main-belt comet (MBC) to confirm the sublimation-driven nature of its activity by searching for CN emission at 3880A. A recently-identified class of objects that exhibit comet-like activity yet are dynamically indistinguishable from main-belt asteroids, MBCs may have played a significant role in the primordial delivery of Earth's water. To date, it has never been unambiguously shown that MBC activity is due to ice sublimation, though abundant indirect evidence supports this conclusion. If observed promptly, a newly discovered MBC with a sufficiently bright coma offers an excellent opportunity to detect gas emission from a main-belt object and provide the first unambiguous confirmation of present-day volatile material in the main belt. In this proposal, we request NOAO time to observe one MBC from Gemini-South. A companion proposal has been submitted to UH for similar observations from Gemini-North to permit selection of the best follow-up site based on target position. The transient nature of gas emission from MBCs requires the rapid response of ToO observations while its expected faintness requires a large-aperture telescope to detect, making Gemini queue observations ideal for this program.


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