The LCO Outbursting Objects Key (LOOK) Project is a 3 year Key Project using the many robotic telescopes of the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) network to study the behavior of Dynamically New Comets and to determine the frequency and nature of outbursts on small bodies across the Solar System. The LOOK Project has two main objectives:
1) We are using the telescopes of the LCO Network to systematically monitor a sample of DNCs (Dynamically New Comets, originating from the Oort cloud) over the whole sky. By studying this population’s brightness and morphology changes as they pass through the inner Solar System, we can assess their evolutionary state (primitive vs. processed), identify targets for immediate or future follow-up (e.g., outburst vs. ambient coma composition), and, ultimately, better understand the behavior of these distant members as remnants of the early formation of the Solar System. These results will also help optimize the science return of the ESA Comet Interceptor mission and other future missions and gain a greater understanding of the interstellar objects that are just beginning to be discovered.
2) We are using the alerts and other data from the existing sky surveys such as ZTF, PanSTARRS1 & 2, Catalina and ATLAS to search for outburst activity in small bodies (comets, asteroids, centaurs) and rapidly respond to these outbursts with the telescopes of the LCO Network. These data will characterize each outburst’s evolution with time, help assess the frequency and magnitude distribution of outbursts in general, and, ultimately, contribute to our understanding of outburst processes. This will allow us to gain a better understanding of these outbursts on small bodies and the distribution of volatiles across the Solar System.
This observing program, which started on 2020 July 1 and will run through 2023 July, exploits the synergy between current and future wide-field surveys such as ZTF, PanSTARRS and LSST and rapid-response telescope networks such as LCO. Techniques, data reduction and analysis software developed during this Key Project and implemented on the ZTF survey and previous LCO programs will be an excellent “scale model” and testbed for what will be needed for the much larger number of objects coming from LSST.
We will describe the LOOK Project goals, the planning and target selection, including the use of NEOexchange as a Target and Observation (TOM) manager, and first results from the initial few months of observations.