It has been suggested that centaurs may lose their red surfaces and become bluer due to the onset of cometary activity, but the way in which cometary outbursts affect the surface composition and albedo of active centaurs is poorly understood. We obtained consistent visual-NIR reflectance spectra of the sporadically active centaur 174P/Echeclus during a period of inactivity in 2014 and six weeks after its outburst in 2016 to see if activity had observably changed the surface properties of the nucleus. We observed no change in Echeclus' surface reflectance properties following the outburst compared to before, indicating that, in this case, any surface changes due to cometary activity were not sufficiently large to be observable from Earth. Our spectra and post-outburst imaging have revealed, however, that the remaining dust coma is not only blue compared to Echeclus, but also bluer than Solar, with a spectral gradient of -7.7+/-0.6% per 0.1 micron measured through the 0.61-0.88 micron wavelength range that appears to continue up to a wavelength of ~1.3 micron before becoming neutral. We conclude that the blue visual colour of the dust is likely not a scattering effect, and instead may be indicative of the dust's carbon-rich composition. Deposition of such blue, carbon-rich, comatic dust onto a red active centaur may be a mechanism by which its surface colour could be neutralised.
Bibliographical note14 pages, 4 figures, 2 tables, submitted to AJ
Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis › Doctor of Philosophy