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  • 1. Astronomy & Astrophysics manuscript no. hb c ESO 2011 April 25, 2011 Frozen to death? – Detection of comet Hale-Bopp at 30.7 AU Gy. M. Szab´1,2,3 , K. S´rneczky1 , L. L. Kiss1,4 o a 1 Konkoly Observatory, Konkoly-Thege Mikl´s ut 15-17, H1121 Budapest, Hungary o ´ 2 E¨tv¨s Fellow at the Astronomy Dept., University of Texas at Austin, 78712 TX, USA o o 3 Dept. of Exp. Physics & Astronomical Observatory, University of Szeged, 6720 Szeged, Hungary 4 Sydney Institute for Astronomy, School of Physics, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia ABSTRACTarXiv:1104.4351v1 [astro-ph.EP] 21 Apr 2011 Context. Comet Hale–Bopp (C/1995 O1) has been the single most significant comet encountered by modern astronomy, still having displayed significant activity at 25.7 AU solar distance in late 2007. It is a puzzling question when and where this activity will finally cease. Aims. Here we present new observations with the ESO 2.2m telescope at La Silla to check the activity of Hale–Bopp at 30.7 AU solar distance. Methods. On 2010-12-04, 26 CCD images were taken with 180 s exposure times for photometry and morphology. m m Results. The comet was detected in R and had a total brightness of 23. 3±0. 2, referring to an absolute brightness of m ′′ R(1,1,0)=8. 3. The profile of the coma was star-like at a seeing of 1. 9, without any evidence of a coma or tail extending farther than 2. 5 (=55,000 km in projection) and exceeding 26.5 mag/arcs2 surface brightness. ′′ Conclusions. The measured total brightness corresponds to a relative total reflecting surface, aR C, of 485 km2 , nine times less than three years before. The calculated aR C value would imply a nucleus with 60–65 km radius assuming 4% albedo. This size estimate is in significant contradiction with the previous results scattering around 35 km. Therefore we suggest that the comet may still be in a low-level activity, despite the lack of a prominent coma. Alternatively, if the nucleus is already dormant, the albedo should be as high as 13%, assuming a radius of 35 km. With this observation, Hale–Bopp has been the most distant comet ever observed, far beyond the orbit of Neptune. 1. Introduction. paper we present a photometrical and morphological anal- ysis of these observations. According to the paradigm of cometary activity, matter production decreases fast after the rapid decrease of water sublimation at 3 AU (Fern´ndez 2005). A few exceptional a 2. Observations comets, however, displayed activity far beyond 3 AU (e.g. Lowry et al. 1999; Lowry & Fitzsimmons 2001, 2005; Lowry We made new RC filtered observations with the 2.2 m ESO & Wiessman 2003; Snodgrass et al. 2006, 2008; Mazzotta telescope at the La Silla site in Chile, on December 4, 2010, Epifani et al. 2006, 2007). There are known examples of ac- with sidereal tracking. We took 26×180 s exposures with an ′′ ′′ tive long period comets (Szab´ et al. 2001a, 2002, Meech et o image scale of 0. 24/pixel. The seeing was ≈1. 9, mostly due al. 2004, Mazzotta Epifani et al. 2009, Ivanova et al. 2011) to the airmass of 1.9–2.1, which was caused by the comet’s and Centaur objects (e.g. Meech et al. 1997, Rousselot 2008, unfavourable celestial position close to the Southern pole. Jewitt 2009). The exact location of the snow line is very im- The images were corrected in a standard fashion, includ- portant in understanding the water reservoirs in the Solar ing bias and flat field correction. We aligned and co-added System, and therefore the structure and evolution of extra- the images by fitting a coordinate grid to the stars, yield- solar systems, too. ing a “star field” image for photometric calibrations. The images were then re-aligned with respect to the proper mo- In Szab´ et al. (2008) we have shown that C/1995 O1 o tion of the comet, to get untrailed “comet” images. In this (Hale–Bopp) was the most distant active comet ever ob- step, the MPC ephemerides at the time of each observation served, with a prominent coma at 25.7 AU solar distance. were used to match the individual frames. Fig. 1 shows the This surprising observation raised the question where this “comet” images on December 4, 2010, after co-adding the activity will cease. Observing Hale–Bopp in a completely images taken between 5:41–6:48 UT (top panel), and be- frozen state would be also extremely important because a tween 7:08–8:10 UT (lower panel). The proper motion of thick coma was constantly present during the entire ap- the comet confirms its identification. parition. The coma obscured the nucleus which was not Hale–Bopp was detected very slightly northwest from observed directly. Lacking photometric data of the bared the positions predicted for the La Silla site at the time nucleus, its size, one of the most important input parame- of observations (Table 1, astrometry part; Fig. 1 lowest ter in activity models remained uncertain. panel). The mean deviations and their rms scatter in right ′′ ′′ ′′ ′′ Here we present new observations of Hale–Bopp at 30.7 ascension and declination are 0. 59±0. 06 and 0. 25±0. 20, AU solar distance. In late 2010, the comet exhibited evi- respectively. The confidence interval of the measured po- dence for the cessation of the matter production. In this sitions was tested by astrometry of artificial sources: with
  • 2. 2 Gy. M. Szab´, K. S´rneczky,L. L. Kiss: Detection of comet Hale-Bopp at 30.7 AU o aaddstar routine in IRAF, we added 18 artificial comets to Table 1. Ephemerides and astronetry of Hale-Bopp onthe image with the same PSF and brightness as the comet 2010-12-04.image itself. Because of the noise and sampling, the astrom-etry of these artificial comets resulted in slightly different Ephemeridespositions than where they were inserted. The standard error λ [◦ ] β [◦ ] R [AU] ∆ [AU] E [◦ ] α [◦ ] ′′of these differences resulted to be 0. 23 in both coordinates, 278.8 −66.9 30.7 31.0 69.5 1.8which can be considered as the 1-sigma confidence level er- Astrometryror of the measured positions of Hale-Bopp. NASA JPL UT RA (00h 38m ) Dec (-86◦ 32′ ) s Pred. Meas. Pred. Meas.Horizon reports 3-σ uncertainties on the position of 0.45 s s ′′ ′′ ′′and 0. 10 in RA and DEC, respectively. The measured very 6:15 42. 94 42. 28 53. 9 53. 8 s s ′′ ′′marginal differences may be attributed to non-gravitational 6:57 41. 17 40. 60 50. 9 50. 5 s s ′′ ′′forces from the distant activity of the comet. 7:39 39. 42 38. 73 47. 8 47. 0 For the photometry, we used local comparison starstaken from the USNO-B catalog. To check the consistency past 3 years. The measured total magnitude of Hale–Boppof the magnitude zero-point, another method was also used, m m was R =23. 3±0. 2 in 2010, referring to an absolute bright-based on synthetic RC magnitudes from 2MASS photom- m ness of mR (1,1,0)=8. 3. This brightness can be converted toetry. For calculating the synthetic RC magnitudes, we col- aR C, the total reflecting surface in the aperture (Eddingtonlected 2MASS photometry of all stars in the Landolt (1992) 1910),catalog and followed the method of least-square fitting ofthe color indices (see Bilir et al. 2008, who give transforma- 0.4(m⊙ −mcomet ) 2.22 × 1022 πR2 ∆2 10tions from 2MASS magnitudes to Sloan gr and ri colours; aR C = . (2)we followed the same procedure to determine a transfor- 10−0.4αβmation from 2MASS magnitudes to RC magnitude). We m Here m⊙ = −27. 11, the apparent RC brightness of theexcluded all stars with K > 13 from the fitting, and also Sun, and the β phase coefficient is usually assumed torestricted J − K < 0.4 where the color-color distributions be 0.04. Substituting the measured total brightness yieldswere narrow and linear. We then determined aR C ≈ 485 km2 . This value is only 11% that of measured in late 2007, when Hale–Bopp was at 25.7 AU solar distance.RC = J − 0.766(J − H) + 2.364(J − K) + 0.213 ± 0.055, (1) Unlike most comets with distant activity, the inner coma of Hale–Bopp followed a distinct, flat profile (Szab´ et al. ovalid for stars (J − K < 0.4). We identified 15 appropri- 2008). In 2010 we did not detect such a coma, and the pro-ate stars in our images which had 2MASS photometry. Eq file of Hale–Bopp was not broader than that of the stars1 has been applied to these stars, and finally the photo- (Fig. 2). This indicated the lack of a bright, extended in-metric zero-point of the average of 180 s images resulted m m ner coma. The measured intensity peak of the comet had anto be 24. 42±0. 06 magnitudes. This result is absolutely m apparent surface brightness of 24.3 mag/arcs2. For compar-consistent with a zero-point of 24. 45±0.05, derived from ison, the peak intensity was 20.6 mag/arcs2 3 years before,the R photometry presented in the USNO-B catalog. The ′′ and that time a flat intensity plateau extended to ≈ 2. 54% difference of the two different zero-points are much less from the nucleus. By late 2010, the bright flat coma van-than the photon noise of the comet image itself. We finally ished, suggesting that the matter production in 2010 wasadopted a zero-point of 24.43 magnitudes at the average at least an order of magnitude less than in 2007. This es-airmass of ≈2 where the observations were taken. This ZP timate is also compatible with the measured decrement ofis consitent with the standard value of WFI of ≈24.4–24.6 aR C by an order of magnitude. In 2010, the comet alsoin the Zenith (chip #6), and the average R extinction co- ′′ lacked coma or tail extending farther than 2. 5 and exceed-efficient of 0.07–0.12. 2 ing 26.5 mag/arcs surface brightness (which is the limit of The comet and the comparison stars were measured ′′ a 2-σ detection of extended sources above the backgroundin an aperture which had 2. 9 diameter, i.e. 1.5-times noise). Since coma-like feature is not present in the images,the FWHM of stellar profiles. This is quite close to the we conclude that Hale-Bopp had a very faint outer coma,aperture of the optimal S/N (1.3×FWHM, Szab´ et al.o if any, at 30,7 AU solar distance.2001b), and contains 85% of the starlight. The total pho- m Because aR C of 485 km2 is in a contradiction withton noise (star+background) was 0. 08 (1-σ confidence in- the expectations based on previous size estimates, we can-terval). Because the comparison stars were measured with not exclude that a loose coma component was still presentthe same aperture, there was no need to aperture correc- m around Hale–Bopp at the time of observation. The valuetion. Estimating conservatively an error of ≈0. 1 in both of aR C would refer to a total cross section of 12,000 km2ZP and in the systematics from aperture effects, the to- m of the reflecting matter, assuming 4% albedo. A bared nu-tal error results to be 0. 2. Surface photometry has been cleus could only support this value if it would be as largeapplied to the each pixels of the raw “comet” image, i.e. as 62 km (radius), which is incompatible to the previouswithout deconvolution to the seeing. Errors were estimated size estimates (e.g. 35 km, Weaver and Lamy 1997; 30 km,based on the background scatter of 1.27 ADU/pixel, or 0.07 Fern´ndez 2003; 37 km, Lamy et al. 2004). Therefore, some aADU/arcs2 . The surface brightness profile is plotted in Fig. part of the reflecting matter must be present in the form of2. a loose coma. This may be an indirect evidence for a low- level activity of Hale–Bopp, beyond the orbit of Neptune.3. Results Another possibility is that the comet is already dormant, but there might still be dust grains around the nucleus. IfCompared to our previous observations, the general ap- there is plenty dust in the aperture, this can significantlypearance of the comet has drastically changed during the contribute to the total light.
  • 3. Gy. M. Szab´, K. S´rneczky,L. L. Kiss: Detection of comet Hale-Bopp at 30.7 AU o a 3 ρ (arcsec) 0.2 0.5 1 2 5 24.0 24.5 * * ** 25.0 ** µ (mag/arcs2) * ** 25.5 * ** * Hale−Bopp * 26.0 Stellar profile ** * ** * * *** * * 26.5 Surface detection limit 27.0 * * ** * ** * 50* 100 5 10 20 ρ (103 km) Fig. 2. Surface brightness profile of Hale–Bopp (stars), compared to the average profile of faint stars (dashed line). The dotted line shows the 2-σ limit of surface brightness detection in the comet image. 14 46 7:39 UT 16 48 18DEC (−86:32:) 20 50 6:57 UT mag 22 Hale-Bopp 24 52 C/1987 H1 6:15 UT 26 C/1987 F1 C/1984 K1 54 28 C/1983 O1 young Oort-cloud comets 44 43 42 41 40 39 38 RA (00:38:) 30 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40Fig. 1. Upper images: comet Hale–Bopp at 30.7 AU so- R (AU)lar distance, on December 4, 2010. The field of view is ′ ′2. 67×1. 57; north is up, east is to the left. The brightest Fig. 3. The light curve of Hale–Bopp compared to obser-star in the image is 2MASS J00395120-8632270, which has vations of 6 dynamically young Oort-cloud comets (Meechan R magnitude of 12.93±0.06. Lowest panel: Comparison et al. 2004; the last five point are upper limits). The topof the measured astrometric positions (open dots with er- dashed curve shows the prediction of distant activity byrors) and the JPL predictions (solid dots). Error bars de- Capria et al. (2002). The middle solid curve is the bright-note the 2-sigma level confidence intervals of the measured ness prediction if the nucleus is already dormant. The lowerpositions. dashed curve plots the expected brightness of a 37 km size nucleus (radius) with 4% albedo (Lamy et al. 2004). In Fig. 3, we plot the observed brightness of Hale–Bopp(collected from ICQ and MPC bulletins) against the so-lar distance. For comparison, data for 6 dynamically young observations, Hale–Bopp was consistently 3–5 magnitudesOort-comets are also plotted (Meech et al. 2004). We also brighter than these Oort-comets at distances <15 AU. Byshow a theoretical light curve predicted from the CO pro- 2010, the total brightness of the comet has diminished byduction curve by Capria et al. (2002), assuming water ice 1.5–2 magnitudes. The observed sudden decrease of thecrystallization heating the nucleus. In the case of previous total brightness, together with the disappearance of the
  • 4. 4 Gy. M. Szab´, K. S´rneczky,L. L. Kiss: Detection of comet Hale-Bopp at 30.7 AU o aprominent coma shows that Hale–Bopp is now on the way somewhat larger than one would expect for a nucleusof freezing out: the cessation of matter production. with 30–40 km radius (unless its albedo is very high), so we suggest some light is scattered by a faint coma which is still present.4. Discussion and summary 3. The comet has a star-like appearance, therefore we con-Our observation is worth comparing to the observations of cluded the comet lacks the presence of the thick coma1P/Halley at large heliocentric distances (Hainaut et al. which was characteristic to this comet at all observed2004). Observed at 28.1 AU, comet Halley had been the solar distances. This situation will finally enable a re-most distant comet ever observed until our present obser- liable coma-nucleus separation and the photometry ofvations of Hale–Bopp. With the VLT an integration time of the nucleus with large telescopes such as VLT.almost 9 hours has been applied, leading to the detectionof Halley’s nucleus with S/N=8. That time, comet Halley Acknowledgmentswas a 28.1 magnitude atmosphereless body. The significantdifference between these comets (over the simple fact that This project has been supported by the Hungarian OTKAHale–Bopp is larger and brighter) is how far out comet Grants K76816, K83790 and MB08C 81013, the “Lend¨ let” uHale–Bopp could maintain an observable matter produc- Program of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and thetion. The activity of comet Halley ceased at around 11 AU E¨tv¨s Fellowship of the Hungarian State. o osolar distance. Interestingly, an outburst was observed in1991 when comet Halley suddely brightened 5 magnitudes,when the comet was at around 14.2 AU solar distance (West Referenceset al. 1991). A’Hearn, M.F. et al., 1984, AJ, 89, 579 In Fig. 3, two curves illustrate the expected brightness Bilir, S., Ak, S., Karaali, S., Cabrera-Lavers, A., Chonis, T. S.,of Hale–Bopp beyond 30 AU. The brighter state (solid line) Gaskell, C. M., 2008, MNRAS, 384, 1178 Capria, M.T., Coradini, A., De Sanctis, M.C., 2002, EMP, 90, 217is the predicted light curve if the nucleus is already inactive. Caldwell, J. A. R., Cousins, A. W. J., Ahlers, C. C., van Wamelen,(This is a light curve of a body with an identical absolute P., Maritz, E. J., 1993, SAAO Circ, 15, 1brightness as Hale–Bopp in late 2010.) The fainter scenario Delsemme, A.H., 1981, in: Comets (ed. Wilkening, L.L.), the model of Lamy et al. (2004), plotting the brightness Arizona Press, Tucson, p. 85 Eddington, A.S., 1910, MNRAS, 70, 442of a body with 37 km radius and 4% albedo. Hale–Bopp was Fern´ndez, J.A., 2005, Comets, Astrophysics and Space Library, aevidently brighter than this latter curve, which we invoked Springer, Dordrecht, NLas an indirect evidence of a loose coma. However, there is Hainaut, O. R., Delsanti, A., Meech, K. J., West, R. M., 2004, A&A,an alternative explanation of the measured brightness. A 417, 1159bared nucleus with 35 km radius can exhibit the observed Jewitt, David, 2009, AJ, 137, 4296 Landolt, A.U., 1992, AJ, 104, 340brightness if it has a higher albedo, approximately 13%. Ivanova, O. V., Skorov, Y. V., Korsun, P. P., Afanasiev, V. L., Blum,This is significantly higher than the albedo of cometary J., 2011, Icarus, 211, 559nuclei in general and that of derived for Hale–Bopp espe- Lamy, P. L., T´th, I., Fern´ndez, Y. R., Weaver, H. A., 2004, in: o acially (4%, Lamy et al. 2004). But considering a possible Comets II (eds. M. C. Festou, H. U. Keller, and H. A. Weaver), University of Arizona Press, Tucson, p.223re-condensation of the gases to the surface during the dis- Lowry, S.C., Fitzsimmons, A., Cartwright I.M., Williams, I.P., 1999,tant activity, it would be even plausible that the surface A&A, 349, 649has been covered with a thin ice film that could increase Lowry, S.C., Fitzsimmons, A., 2001, A&A, 365, 204the albedo. In the case of this scenario, the light curve of Lowry, S.C., Weissman P.R., 2003, Icarus, 164, 492Hale–Bopp will follow the path of our brighter prediction. Lowry, S.C., Fitzsimmons, A., 2005, MNRAS, 358, 641 Mazzotta Epifani, E., Palumbo, P., Capria, M.T., Cremonese, G.,If the measured excess light is due to low-level activity, the Fulle, M., Colangeli, L., 2006, A&A, 460, 935light curve will converge to the fainter prediction in the Mazzotta Epifani, E., Palumbo, P., Capria, M.T., Cremonese, G.,future. Fulle, M., Colangeli, L., 2007, MNRAS, 381, 713 In Szab´ et al. (2008) we estimated the basic parameters o Mazzotta Epifani, E., Palumbo, P., Capria, M. T., Cremonese, G., Fulle, M., Colangeli, L., 2009, A&A, 502, 355of the activity of Hale–Bopp at 25,7 AU solar distance. We Meech, K.J., Buie, M.W., Samarasinha, N.H., Mueller, B.E.A.,estimated its temperature was 53.1 K. This was slightly Belton, M.J.S., 1997, AJ, 113, 844less than 54.8 K for a blackbody, due to the sublimation Meech, K.J., Hainaut, O.R., Marsden, B.G., 2004, Icarus, 170, 463of 2 × 1019 CO molecules/m2 /s. In 30.7 AU solar distance, Rousselot, P., 2008, A&A, 480, 543the equivalent temperature of a blackbody is 50.1 K. Since Snodgrass, C., Lowry, S.C., Fitzsimmons, A., 2006, MNRAS, 373, 1590Hale–Bopp seems to turn into inactive state, we infer that Snodgrass, C., Lowry, S.C., Fitzsimmons, A., 2008, MNRAS, 385, 737the temperature of activity cessation is somewhere between Szab´, Gy.M., Cs´k, B., S´rneczky, K., Kiss, L.L., 2001a, A&A, 374, o a a50–53 K for a Hale–Bopp type comet. 712 The main results of this paper can be summarized as Szab´, Gy.M., Cs´k, B., S´rneczky, K., Kiss, L.L., 2001b, A&A, 375, o a a 285follows: Szab´, Gy.M., Kiss, L.L., S´rneczky, K., Szil´di, K., 2002, A&A, 384, o a a 7021. We detected comet Hale–Bopp at 30.7 AU, which is the Szab´, Gy.M., Kiss, L.L., S´rneczky, K., 2008, ApJ, 677, L121 o a most distant detection of a comet so far. Weaver, H.A. et al., 1997, Science, 275, 19002. The absolute brightness of Hale–Bopp was West, R. M., Hainaut, O., Smette, A., A&A, 246, 77 m R(1,1,0)=8. 3. The total relative reflecting surface of the 40,000 km environment around the nucleus, aR C is 485 km2 . This is a factor of 9 less than that we observed in 2007, and suggests the comet is near to ceasing its activity. However, this cross section is