We all have a basic idea of what a planet is, but centaurs are something a little different: they are ‘mini planets’ with comet-like features like tails, and their origin is in the Kuiper Belt that’s located at the outskirts of the Solar System. Centaur 2014 OG392 is a very special kind of such ‘mini planet’, as astronomers found something intriguing on the space object.
Therefore, a scientific team led by doctoral student and Presidential Fellow Colin Chandler, discovered surprising activity emerging from Centaur 2014 OG392. The scientists had been using the Dark Energy Camera from the Inter-American Observatory in Cerro Tololo (Chile) and the Large Monolithic Imageer at Lowell Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope in Arizona.
The Centaur is reclassified as a comet
Due to the coma of 400,000 km found on the ‘mini planet’, the object was classified as a comet and named as ‘C/2014 OG392 (PANSTARRS)’.
One official statement says:
“We detected a coma as far as 400,000 km from 2014 OG392 and our analysis of sublimation processes and dynamical lifetime suggest carbon dioxide and/or ammonia are the most likely candidates for causing activity on this and other active Centaurs. We developed a novel technique that combines observational measurements, for example, color and dust mass, with modeling efforts to estimate such characteristics as the object’s volatile sublimation and orbital dynamics.”
Whether we like it or not, scientists have a lot more to learn about the underlying activity mechanisms for centaurs. Only 18 active centaurs had been discovered in about a century: since 1927.
If you thought that Earth is too far away from the sun, think again! 2014 OG 392 orbits between 10 and 15 AU (astronomical units) from its host star. One astronomical unit means the distance between the sun and our planet (150 million km).
The researchers presented their results in the Astrophysical Journal Letters: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/ab7dc6