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Furthest Inbound Long-Period Comet Ever Detected at Record Distance (25.8 AU) From The Sun By UCLA Graduate Student Man-To Hui

Posted on Apr 12, 2019 in Featured, News

Furthest Inbound Long-Period Comet Ever Detected at Record Distance (25.8 AU) From The Sun By UCLA Graduate Student Man-To Hui

UCLA Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences (EPSS) Graduate Student Man-To Hui has made a fascinating discovery of the furthest ever comet to be active at 25.8 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun (the definition of an Astronomical Unit [AU])

Man-To Hui’s work on Long Period Comet C/2010 U3 (Boattini), now published in The Astronomical Journal currently sets the record for comets discovered to be active from the Sun, which typically begin to become active as they get closer to the Sun, around ~3 AU.

“The most profound implication is that the direction of the comet’s tail is totally unexpected without the inclusion of the third additional force, the Lorentz Force, aside from the other two which are conventional solar radiation pressure and the local solar gravity.” said Hui. The Lorentz force is a combined force between the electric and magnetic fields acting on a point charge that is moving. As the solar wind pushes against the materials liberated from the surface of a comet, we experience an ion tail which is one of the two tails comets typically have, the other being the dust tail.

Hui’s research utilized precovery data from telescopes that fortuitously had imaged the same field Boattini was in from other astronomers’ ongoing data collection programs. This comet at 25.8 AU breaks the previously held record by Hui in a collaboration with UCLA Professor David Jewitt (Hui’s Ph. D Advisor) in their 2017 research for distant active comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) at 23.7 AU.

“Comets truly are time capsules and icy remnants from the early formation of the Solar System and an important component for us plantetary scientists is to understand why they become active at such large distances”, said Dave Milewski, a 4th year Ph.D student in Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences.


Image Caption: Archival Image of comet C/2010 U3 (Boattini) taken by UCLA Professor David Jewitt at the Keck 10-m Telescope in Hawaii on 2011 January 30. The Keck Telescope is operated by a partnership between the University of California, Caltech, and the University of Hawaii.


Publication: https://doi.org/10.3847/1538-3881/ab0e09

Nature Astronomy Press Release: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-019-0760-9

UCLA Division For Physical Sciences Press Release: https://www.physicalsciences.ucla.edu/news/