Sunday, October 2, 2016



Cook et al


During the planet formation process, billions of comets are created and ejected into interstellar space. The detection and characterization of such interstellar comets (ICs) (also known as extra-solar planetesimals or extra-solar comets) would give us in situ information about the efficiency and properties of planet formation throughout the galaxy. However, no ICs have ever been detected, despite the fact that their hyperbolic orbits would make them readily identifiable as unrelated to the solar system. Moro-Martín et al. have made a detailed and reasonable estimate of the properties of the IC population. We extend their estimates of detectability with a numerical model that allows us to consider "close" ICs, e.g., those that come within the orbit of Jupiter. We include several constraints on a "detectable" object that allow for realistic estimates of the frequency of detections expected from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and other surveys. The influence of several of the assumed model parameters on the frequency of detections is explored in detail. Based on the expectation from Moro-Martín et al., we expect that LSST will detect 0.001–10 ICs during its nominal 10 year lifetime, with most of the uncertainty from the unknown number density of small (nuclei of ~0.1–1 km) ICs. Both asteroid and comet cases are considered, where the latter includes various empirical prescriptions of brightening. Using simulated LSST-like astrometric data, we study the problem of orbit determination for these bodies, finding that LSST could identify their orbits as hyperbolic and determine an ephemeris sufficiently accurate for follow-up in about 4–7 days. We give the hyperbolic orbital parameters of the most detectable ICs. Taking the results into consideration, we give recommendations to future searches for ICs.

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