An Observational Upper Limit on the Interstellar Number Density of Asteroids and Comets

Toni Engelhardt, Robert Jedicke, Peter Veres, Alan Fitzsimmons, Larry Denneau, Ed Beshore, Bonnie Meinke

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We derived 90% confidence limits (CL) on the interstellar number density ($\rho_{IS}^{CL}$) of interstellar objects (ISO; comets and asteroids) as a function of the slope of their size-frequency distribution and limiting absolute magnitude. To account for gravitational focusing, we first generated a quasi-realistic ISO population to ~750 au from the Sun and propagated it forward in time to generate a steady state population of ISOs with heliocentric distance surveys combined ISO detection efficiency under several different but realistic modes of identifying ISOs in the survey data. Some of the synthetic detected ISOs had eccentricities as small as 1.01 --- in the range of the largest eccentricities of several known comets. Our best CL of $\rho_{IS}^{CL} = 1.4 \times 10^{-4}$ au$^{-3}$ implies that the expectation that extra-solar systems form like our solar system, eject planetesimals in the same way, and then distribute them throughout the galaxy, is too simplistic, or that the SFD or behavior of ISOs as they pass through our solar system is far from expectations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAstronomical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

accepted for publication in AJ


  • astro-ph.EP


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