The fading problem and the population of the Oort cloud
Astronomical Institute, Slovak Academy of Sciences, 05960 Tatranská Lomnica, Slovakia e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted: 29 August 2006
Context.The discovery efficiency of the dynamically new comets has been assumed to be approximately the same as that of all long-period (LP) comets when estimating the population of the Oort cloud. On the other hand, studies of the so-called fading problem have implied a strong difference in the discovery efficiencies of both new and old comets. Some authors have attempted to explain this discrepancy by suggesting that old comets disappeared due to the extinction or disintegration of their nuclei.
Aims.We attempt to answer the question of whether the absolute brightness of old comets steeply decreases in time or whether their nuclei become extinct, dormant, or disintegrated. Moreover, we analyse the impact of the highly different discovery efficiencies on an estimate of the Oort-cloud population.
Methods.The dominance of the fading over the extinction, dormant-phase, or disintegration is demonstrated with the help of the distributions of the reciprocal semi-major axes of the original orbits of the LP comets and a more moderate decrease in discoveries of new comets with increasing perihelion distance. The comet discoveries within the LINEAR sky survey are also used to support our conclusion.
Results.The demonstrated dominance of the fading implies the relatively higher discovery efficiency of new comets. Its ignorance causes an overestimation of the actual intrinsic flux of new comets through the zone of visibility compared to the corresponding intrinsic flux of all LP comets. This overestimate is also documented by a significantly smaller amount of new comets with perihelia AU discovered within the LINEAR.
Conclusions.The actual intrinsic flux of new comets must be about one order of magnitude lower than has been derived before. Its reduction implies a one-order-of-magnitude less numerous population for the Oort cloud. Moreover, such the reduction also solves (or, at least, weakens) the problem of too high a mass of the comet cloud, as well as the problem of too numerous a population of predicted Halley-type objects or too high a space density of interstellar comets.
Key words: comets: general / Oort Cloud
© ESO, 2006