Ice in the Asteroid Belt: The Main-Belt Comets

Wednesday, December 09, 2020 - 3:30pm PST
Henry Hsieh
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Main-belt comets (MBCs) are dynamically indistinguishable from main-belt asteroids, yet exhibit comet-like activity likely due to the sublimation of volatile ices.  Their existence challenges long-held assumptions about the prevalence and nature of volatile material in small bodies in the warm inner solar system.  MBCs also offer prospects for constraining models of the formation and evolution of our solar system in general, while additionally presenting a potential means for assessing the plausibility of hypotheses that suggest that icy main-belt objects could have played a significant role in the primordial delivery of water to the Earth.  I will discuss advances in our understanding of these enigmatic objects over just the last decade and a half since their recognition as a new class of cometary bodies, including efforts to determine the MBC population's size and extent, physically and dynamically characterize individual objects and the population in general, and model the thermal evolution of ice in small bodies.  I will also discuss prospects for future advances in this fast-developing field, especially involving upcoming facilities like the Vera C. Rubin Observatory and James Webb Space Telescope.

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