Discovering New Asteroids and Comets

Supervisor: Dr. Paul Wiegert

Project Description (Abstract):

Comets and asteroids are both small bodies which orbits the Sun much as the planets do, but their compositions are very different. Comets contain a lot of water ice, while asteroids are dry rocky bodies. The two cannot be easily distinguished in an ordinary telescope image unless a comet receives enough sunlight to cause the vaporization of its ice component; the produces a fuzzy cloud of vapour that then is swept back into the tail that is traditionally associated with comets. As telescopic observations improve, smaller and smaller bodies with weaker and weaker vapor production ('cometary activity') are being observed, sometimes from bodies which had originally been classified as asteroids. It is now clear that the two types of bodies are two ends of a spectrum of small bodies with differing ice contents. Since the water content of our own planet Earth is thought to have arrived through the impacts of icy comets in the past, understanding the properties and ice contents of the small bodies is of great interest.

This project may involve using telescopic images to search for asteroids and comets and determine whether they are showing cometary activity, or examining images of known low activity comets to study it in more detail.  The student may become the discoverer of new asteroids or comets during this project.