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      Frozen to death? -- Detection of comet Hale-Bopp at 30.7 AU

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          Abstract

          Comet Hale--Bopp (C/1995 O1) has been the single most significant comet encountered by modern astronomy, still having displayed significant activity at 25.7 AU solar distance in late 2007. It is a puzzling question when and where this activity will finally cease. Here we present new observations with the ESO 2.2m telescope at La Silla to check the activity of Hale--Bopp at 30.7 AU solar distance. On 2010-12-04, 26 CCD images were taken with 180 s exposure times for photometry and morphology. The comet was detected in R and had a total brightness of 23.3+-0.2 mag, referring to an absolute brightness of R(1,1,0)=8.3. The profile of the coma was star-like at a seeing of 1.9", without any evidence of a coma or tail extending farther than 2.5" (=55,000 km in projection) and exceeding 26.5 mag/arcs^2 surface brightness. The measured total brightness corresponds to a relative total reflecting surface, a_RC, of 485 km^2, nine times less than three years before. The calculated a_RC value would imply a nucleus with 60--65 km radius assuming 4% albedo. This size estimate is in significant contradiction with the previous results scattering around 35 km. Therefore we suggest that the comet may still be in a low-level activity, despite the lack of a prominent coma. Alternatively, if the nucleus is already dormant, the albedo should be as high as 13%, assuming a radius of 35 km. With this observation, Hale--Bopp has been the most distant comet ever observed, far beyond the orbit of Neptune.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          21 April 2011
          Article
          10.1051/0004-6361/201116793
          1104.4351

          http://arxiv.org/licenses/nonexclusive-distrib/1.0/

          Custom metadata
          4 pages, accepted by A&A
          astro-ph.EP

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