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TESS Observations of 2060 Chiron

Presentation #400.06 in the session Comets: Coma (Oral Presentation)

Published onOct 23, 2023
TESS Observations of 2060 Chiron

2060 Chiron is a Centaur object that orbits at distances 8.4 to 18.9 AU from the Sun. In 1988 it was observed to be brighter than expected [1], and in April 1989, it was found to be surrounded by a faint coma [2]. Chiron’s periods of activity provided support for the conjecture that Centaurs are transition objects between Kuiper Belt objects and Jupiter family comets. Additional monitoring showed that Chiron frequently exhibits activity, though the level seems to be higher around aphelion than perihelion, indicating that characteristics other than solar insolation govern the object’s behavior. More recent observations from 2021, shortly after Chiron passed aphelion at 18.9 AU, suggest that it is again undergoing a new round of outbursts [3]. During this newest period of activity, Chiron passed through the field of view of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). TESS searches for extra-solar planets by staring at a sector of the sky for 27 days at a time, recording an image every 10 minutes (during the first 2 years of its extended mission). During these long stares, comets and asteroids pass through the field of view, and we use these serendipitous observations to produce long-duration, high-cadence lightcurves for objects of interest. These lightcurves show the temporal behavior of these objects, frequently revealing rotational variability and spontaneous outbursts. We also coadd the extensive number of images to reveal very faint comae in comets (e.g., we showed that comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein exhibited activity at a near-record distance of 23.8 AU [4]). Chiron was captured in Sectors 42 (21 Aug through 14 Sep 2021) and 43 (16 Sep through 11 Oct 2021) with a total of 6282 images spanning 58 days. We are investigating whether Chiron shows evidence of activity in these observations. We will report on our analyses of the temporal lightcurves and the deep coadded frames, to evaluate whether the TESS measurements show outburst activity or a surrounding coma. [1] Tholen, D. J., et al., IAU Circ 4554, 1988. [2] Meech, K. J. and Belton, M. J. S., IAUC 4770, 1989. [3] Dobson, M. et al., RNAAS 5, 211, 2021. [4] Farnham, T.L. et al., PSJ 2:236, 2021.

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