Discovery of Main-Belt Comet P/2006 VW139 by Pan-STARRS 1

Henry H. Hsieh, Bin Yang, Nader Haghighipour, Heather M. Kaluna, Alan Fitzsimmons, Larry Denneau, Bojan Novaković, Robert Jedicke, Richard J. Wainscoat, James D. Armstrong, Samuel R. Duddy, Stephen C. Lowry, Chadwick A. Trujillo, Marco Micheli, Jacqueline V. Keane, Laurie Urban, Timm Riesen, Karen J. Meech, Shinsuke Abe, Yu-Chi ChengWen-Ping Chen, Mikael Granvik, Tommy Grav, Wing-Huen Ip, Daisuke Kinoshita, Jan Kleyna, Pedro Lacerda, Tim Lister, Andrea Milani, David J. Tholen, Peter Vereš, Carey M. Lisse, Michael S. Kelley, Yanga R. Fernandez, Bhuwan C. Bhatt, Devendra K. Sahu, Nick Kaiser, K. C. Chambers, Klaus W. Hodapp, Eugene A. Magnier, Paul A. Price, John L. Tonry

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The main-belt asteroid (300163) 2006 VW139 (later designated P/2006 VW139) was discovered to exhibit comet-like activity by the Pan-STARRS1 (PS1) survey telescope using automated point-spread-function analyses performed by PS1's Moving Object Processing System. Deep follow-up observations show both a short (~10'') antisolar dust tail and a longer (~60'') dust trail aligned with the object's orbit plane, similar to the morphology observed for another main-belt comet (MBC), P/2010 R2 (La Sagra), and other well-established comets, implying the action of a long-lived, sublimation-driven emission event. Photometry showing the brightness of the near-nucleus coma remaining constant over ~30 days provides further evidence for this object's cometary nature, suggesting it is in fact an MBC, and not a disrupted asteroid. A spectroscopic search for CN emission was unsuccessful, though we find an upper limit CN production rate of Q CN 100 Myr, while a search for a potential asteroid family around the object reveals a cluster of 24 asteroids within a cutoff distance of 68 m s-1. At 70 m s-1, this cluster merges with the Themis family, suggesting that it could be similar to the Beagle family to which another MBC, 133P/Elst-Pizarro, belongs.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberL15
Number of pages7
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Early online date02 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2012

Bibliographical note

H.H.H. is supported by NASA through Hubble Fellowship Grant HF-51274.01 awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, under contract NAS 5-26555. B.Y., N.H., H.M.K., and K.J.M. acknowledge support through the NASA Astrobiology Institute under Cooperative Agreement NNA08DA77A. B.N. is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of Serbia (Project 176011). A.F. is supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (Grant ST/F002270/1). M.S.K. is supported by NASA Planetary Astronomy Grant NNX09AF10G. PS1 is operated by the PS1 Science Consortium and its member institutions, and also funded by NASA Grant NNX08AR22G issued through the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Planetary Science Division. Gemini is operated by AURA under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) on behalf of the Gemini partnership. The WHT is operated by the Isaac Newton Group in the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. The Faulkes Telescopes are operated by Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. SDSS-III ( is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Participating Institutions, NSF, and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, and managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the SDSS-III Collaboration.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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