Friday, May 31, 2013

1305.7176 (Adam Waszczak et al.)

Main-belt comets in the Palomar Transient Factory survey: I. The search for extendedness    [PDF]

Adam Waszczak, Eran O. Ofek, Oded Aharonson, Shrinivas Kulkarni, David Polishook, James. M. Bauer, David Levitan, Branimir Sesar, Russ Laher, Jason Surace
Cometary activity in main-belt asteroids probes the ice content of these objects and provides clues to the history of volatiles in the inner solar system. We search the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey to derive upper limits on the population size of active main-belt comets (MBCs). From data collected March 2009 through July 2012, we extracted 2 million observations of 220 thousand known main-belt objects (40% of the known population, down to 1-km diameter) and discovered 626 new objects in multi-night linked detections. We formally quantify the extendedness of a small-body observation, account for systematic variation in this metric (e.g., due to on-sky motion) and evaluate this method's robustness in identifying cometary activity using observations of 115 comets, including two known candidate MBCs and six newly-discovered non-main-belt comets (two of which were originally designated as asteroids by other surveys). We demonstrate a 66% detection efficiency with respect to the extendedness distribution of the 115 sampled comets, and a 100% detection efficiency with respect to extendedness levels greater than or equal to those we observed in the known candidate MBCs P/2010 R2 (La Sagra) and P/2006 VW139. Using a log-constant prior, we infer 95% confidence upper limits of 33 and 22 active MBCs (per million main-belt asteroids down to 1-km diameter), for detection efficiencies of 66% and 100%, respectively. In a follow-up to this morphological search, we will perform a photometric (disk-integrated brightening) search for MBCs.
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