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A Sublime Opportunity: In Situ Observations of The Onset of Intense Activity in Transitioning Cometary Bodies

Presentation #304.03 in the session “Understanding Distant Activity”.

Published onOct 03, 2021
A Sublime Opportunity: In Situ Observations of The Onset of Intense Activity in Transitioning Cometary Bodies

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. We demonstrate that a spacecraft stationed near Jupiter would be well-positioned for a rendezvous with LD2, that could orbit match and accompany it as it travels into the inner Solar System. This would provide an opportunity to obtain in situ observations of the onset of intense activity in a pristine comet. In order to contextualize LD2, we perform N-body simulations of a population of Centaurs and JFCs. Objects between Jupiter and Saturn with Tisserand parameter, TJ~3, are transferred onto orbits with perihelia, q<4au, within the next 1000 years with notably high efficiency. Our simulations show that there may be additional LD2-like targets for a rendezvous mission in the near-term 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<4au. Moreover, approximately 55% of the transitioning objects in our simulated population experience at least 1 Jovian encounter prior to reaching q<4au. Finally, we discuss the prospect of identifying additional targets for in situ measurements with forthcoming observational facilities.


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