Weird Tailless Comet Manx May Reveal Clues About Earth's Origin

Posted: Apr 29 2016, 10:09pm CDT | by , Updated: May 2 2016, 12:29am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Weird Tailless Comet Manx May Reveal Clues About Earth's Origin
Artist’s impression of the unique rocky comet. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

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Astronomers believe that a strange rocky object was ejected at a very early stage and is now making its way back into the inner solar system.

Astronomers have found a new kind of comet in our solar system that is rocky and does not have a typical cometary tail. It has been believed that the strange object can provide clues on the formation and evolution of the solar system and Earth-like planets.

Observations indicate that the object was formed at the same time as the Earth itself and could be a building block of rocky planets found in our solar system. Instead, it somehow got ejected and remained preserved in a deep freeze of Oort Cloud for billions of years.

“We already knew of many asteroids, but they have all been baked by billions of years near the Sun. This one is the first uncooked asteroid we could observe: it has been preserved in the best freezer there is.” Lead author Karen Meech from University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy explains.

The tailless comet was first detected by Pan-STARRS1 telescope in 2014 and it looked weird right from the word go. Typically when comets approach closer to the Sun, the streams of gas and dust around them interact with solar wind and radiation pressure and form bright tail that extends from the comet. But the newly discovered comet formally named C/2014 S3 was dark and had virtually no tail when it was found twice as far away from the Sun as Earth. Therefore, it was called Manx comet, named after a breed of cats without tails.

Researchers suggest that most rocky materials that are normally found near the Earth are mostly formed outside the solar system and made of icy material rather than rocks. The strange comet may be formed the same region as the Earth but potentially expelled from inner solar system as giant planets jostled for their position. Ever since, the rocky object has been stored in Oort Cloud – region of solar system far beyond the orbit of outermost planets in which billions of comets move around unless nudged by any other object like a passing star. Researchers believe this is likely the reason strange comet is making its way back into the inner solar system.

“We've found the first rocky comet, and we are looking for others,” said co-author Olivier Hainaut. “Depending how many we find, we will know whether the giant planets danced across the Solar System when they were young, or if they grew up quietly without moving much.”

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