Main Belt Comets (MBCs) constitute a newly identified class of solar system objects. They have asteroid-like orbits and some exhibit a recurrent comet-like appearance. It is believed that MBCs’ ice sublimation-driven activity began recently. Water ice is the only volatile expected to survive under an insulating surface. Impacts can expose this ice and trigger activity.
A mission proposal, Castalia, will be submitted to ESA by January 15th.
Its specific goals are to:
1. Characterize a new Solar System family, the MBCs, by in-situ investigation
2. Understand the physics of MBC activity
3. Directly sample water in the asteroid belt and test if MBCs are a viable source for Earth’s water
4. Use the observed structure of an MBC as a tracer of planetary system formation and evolution
These goals can be achieved by a spacecraft orbiting an MBC, sampling the released gas and dust. These observations will be particularly important in light of recent Rosetta results at Comet 67P. The primary target is 133P/Elst-Pizarro.
Castalia’s international proposing team would welcome indications of support via: http://bit.ly/joincastalia
Additional information on Castalia is available at the same site.