Detection of CN Emission from (2060) Chiron

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Science  15 Feb 1991:
Vol. 251, Issue 4995, pp. 774-777
DOI: 10.1126/science.251.4995.774


In the past decade there has been a gradual, but substantial change in our understanding of the physical nature of (2060) Chiron. Once thought to be the first known member of a population of asteroids orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, Chiron is now generally regarded as the largest known comet. The detection of CN emission in the spectrum of Chiron is reported. Not only do these observations underscore the cometary nature of Chiron, but, at a heliocentric distance exceeding 11 astronomical units, represent the most distant detection yet of a neutral gas species common in comets. These results are consistent with the outgassing from Chiron being primarily driven by isolated outbursts of CO2 from a very small fraction of Chiron's surface. These may be indicative of primordial inhomogeneities.

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