Comet 322P/SOHO 1: An asteroid with the smallest perihelion distance?

Matthew M. Knight, Alan Fitzsimmons, Michael S. P. Kelley, Colin Snodgrass

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We observed comet 322P/SOHO 1 (P/1999 R1) from the ground and with the Spitzer Space Telescope when it was between 2.2 and 1.2 AU from the Sun. These are the first observations of any SOHO-discovered periodic comet by a non-solar observatory, and allow us to investigate its behavior under typical cometary circumstances. 322P appeared inactive in all images. Its lightcurve suggests a rotation period of 2.8+/-0.3 hr and has an amplitude greater than ~0.3 mag, implying a density of at least 1000 kg m$^{-3}$, considerably higher than that of any known comet. It has average colors of g'-r' = 0.52+/-0.04 and r'-i' = 0.04+/-0.09. We converted these to Johnson colors and found that the V-R color is consistent with average cometary colors, but R-I is somewhat bluer; these colors are most similar to V- and Q-type asteroids. Modeling of the optical and IR photometry suggests it has a diameter of 150-320 m and a geometric albedo of 0.09-0.42, with diameter and albedo inversely related. Our upper limits to any undetected coma are still consistent with a sublimation lifetime shorter than the typical dynamical lifetimes for Jupiter Family Comets. These results suggest that it may be of asteroidal origin and only active in the SOHO fields of view via processes different from the volatile-driven activity of traditional comets. If so, it has the smallest perihelion distance of any known asteroid.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2016

Bibliographical note

Accepted by ApJL; 6 pages, 1 table, 3 figures


  • astro-ph.EP


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