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Where's the Water?: Main-Belt Comets as Tracers of Ice in the Inner Solar System

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

As a recently recognized new class of objects exhibiting apparently cometary (i.e., sublimation-driven) activity yet orbiting completely within the main asteroid belt, main-belt comets (MBCs) have revealed the existence of present-day ice, presumed to be water ice, in small bodies in the inner solar system. Detailed studies of this new population offer opportunities to better understand the thermal and compositional history of our solar system, and by extension, those of other planetary systems. We may also be able to use these objects to constrain the abundance and distribution of water in the inner solar system, with significant implications for models for primordial water delivery to the terrestrial planets and for the origin of life on Earth.  I will review the multifaceted work, past and present, being conducted to find, identify, and characterize these objects and understand the physical, dynamical, and thermal evolutionary processes that have acted on this population over the age of the solar system.  I will also detail potential future research directions that could prove fruitful for this still-nascent field of study.

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