Every so often, we are treated to a view of a bright comet as it swings by the Sun. These interlopers are ancient remnants of the early solar system, and the very properties that make them spectacular to see – the bright cloud of gas that surrounds their nuclei as they approach the Sun and heat up – makes their surface properties and composition difficult to determine.
Lowell astronomer David Schleicher will use the DCT's deep imaging capabilities to observe a large sample of comets much farther from the Sun than has heretofore been possible, and to address some of the most basic questions in modern comet research.
A particularly intriquing problem is whether or not the Kuiper Belt Objects that Henry Roe studies are the source of the short period comets. Short period comets must be supplied from somewhere, since their trip through the inner solar system is perilous; they lose material each time they swing by the Sun, and sometimes, if they pass too close to the Sun, they break up altogether. What replenishes them? Dr. Schleicher's thorough observations of their nuclei with the DCT may provide an answer, giving us additional perspective on the long-term history and evolution of our solar system.