Discovery of main-belt comet P/2006 VW139 by Pan-STARRS1

Henry H. Hsieh, Bin Yang, Nader Haghighipour, Heather M. Kaluna, Alan Fitzsimmons, Larry Denneau, Bojan Novaković, Robert Jedicke, Richard J. Wainscoat, James D. Armstrong, Samuel R. Duddy, Stephen C. Lowry, Chadwick A. Trujillo, Marco Micheli, Jacqueline V. Keane, Laurie Urban, Timm Riesen, Karen J. Meech, Shinsuke Abe, Yu Chi ChengWen Ping Chen, Mikael Granvik, Tommy Grav, Wing Huen Ip, Daisuke Kinoshita, Jan Kleyna, Pedro Lacerda, Tim Lister, Andrea Milani, David J. Tholen, Peter Vereš, Carey M. Lisse, Michael S. Kelley, Yanga R. Fernández, Bhuwan C. Bhatt, Devendra K. Sahu, Nick Kaiser, K. C. Chambers, Klaus W. Hodapp, Eugene A. Magnier, Paul A. Price, John L. Tonry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The main-belt asteroid (300163) 2006 VW139 (later designated P/2006 VW139) was discovered to exhibit comet-like activity by the Pan-STARRS1 (PS1) survey telescope using automated point-spread-function analyses performed by PS1's Moving Object Processing System. Deep follow-up observations show both a short (10″) antisolar dust tail and a longer (60″) dust trail aligned with the object's orbit plane, similar to the morphology observed for another main-belt comet (MBC), P/2010 R2 (La Sagra), and other well-established comets, implying the action of a long-lived, sublimation-driven emission event. Photometry showing the brightness of the near-nucleus coma remaining constant over 30days provides further evidence for this object's cometary nature, suggesting it is in fact an MBC, and not a disrupted asteroid. A spectroscopic search for CN emission was unsuccessful, though we find an upper limit CN production rate of Q CN < 1.3 × 1024mols-1, from which we infer a water production rate of mols-1. We also find an approximately linear optical spectral slope of 7.2%/1000, similar to other cometary dust comae. Numerical simulations indicate that P/2006 VW139 is dynamically stable for >100Myr, while a search for a potential asteroid family around the object reveals a cluster of 24 asteroids within a cutoff distance of 68ms-1. At 70ms-1, this cluster merges with the Themis family, suggesting that it could be similar to the Beagle family to which another MBC, 133P/Elst-Pizarro, belongs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL15
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 20 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • comets: general
  • minor planets, asteroids: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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