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Finding Long Lost Lexell's Comet: The Fate of the First Discovered Near-Earth Object

Ye, Quan-Zhi and Wiegert, Paul A. and Hui, Man-To (2018) Finding Long Lost Lexell's Comet: The Fate of the First Discovered Near-Earth Object. Astronomical Journal, 155 (4). Art. No. 163. ISSN 1538-3881. doi:10.3847/1538-3881/aab1f6.

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Jupiter-family Comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell) was the first discovered Near-Earth Object (NEO) and passed the Earth on 1770 July 1 at a recorded distance of 0.015 au. The comet was subsequently lost due to unfavorable observing circumstances during its next apparition followed by a close encounter with Jupiter in 1779. Since then, the fate of D/Lexell has attracted interest from the scientific community, and now we revisit this long-standing question. We investigate the dynamical evolution of D/Lexell based on a set of orbits recalculated using the observations made by Charles Messier, the comet's discoverer, and find that there is a 98% chance that D/Lexell remains in the solar system by the year of 2000. This finding remains valid even if a moderate non-gravitational effect is imposed. Messier's observations also suggest that the comet is one of the largest known near-Earth comets, with a nucleus of ≳10 km in diameter. This implies that the comet should have been detected by contemporary NEO surveys regardless of its activity level if it has remained in the inner solar system. We identify asteroid 2010 JL_(33) as a possible descendant of D/Lexell, with a 0.8% probability of chance alignment, but a direct orbital linkage of the two bodies has not been successfully accomplished. We also use the recalculated orbit to investigate the meteors potentially originating from D/Lexell. While no associated meteors have been unambiguously detected, we show that meteor observations can be used to better constrain the orbit of D/Lexell despite the comet being long lost.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Paper
Ye, Quan-Zhi0000-0002-4838-7676
Wiegert, Paul A.0000-0002-1914-5352
Hui, Man-To0000-0001-9067-7477
Additional Information:© 2018 The American Astronomical Society. Received 2017 December 14; revised 2018 February 16; accepted 2018 February 20; published 2018 March 22. We thank the anonymous referee for his/her careful reading and valuable comments that help improve the manuscript. Q.-Z. is supported by the GROWTH project (National Science Foundation grant No. 1545949). P.W. is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. M.-T. is supported by a NASA grant to David Jewitt. This work was made possible by the facilities of the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET: and Compute/Calcul Canada. The authors wish to dedicate this work to Charles Messier (1730–1817), whom, besides inspiring the authors to draft this work, is most notable for publishing the celebrated Messier catalog, a compilation that has kept the authors busy during their stargazing sessions.
Group:Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC)
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)UNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:comets: individual (D/1770 L1 (Lexell)) – meteorites, meteors, meteoroids – minor planets, asteroids: individual (2010 JL33)
Issue or Number:4
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180327-144439516
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Quan-Zhi Ye et al 2018 AJ 155 163
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:85467
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:28 Mar 2018 18:07
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:29

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