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Astronomers Find First-Ever Tailless Comet That Could Give Answers to Solar System Formation

May 02, 2016 09:50 AM EDT
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Astronomers recently discovered a unique, tailless comet that could provide important clues and answers to questions about the formation and evolution of our solar system.

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, observations done with the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope and the Canada France Hawai'i Telescope revealed a comet called C/2014 S3. Because of the comet's lack of the characteristic tail that they usually have when approaching close to the Sun, the newly discovered space object is dubbed a "Manx" comet, after the breed of cats without tails.

Usually, as comets approach the Sun, the ice vaporizing gleam and reflect due to the sunlight. But when the Manx comet was spotted, it was very dark, like an asteroid.

Reuters reported that the C/2014 S3 was discovered in 2014 using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS. This device is a network of telescopes that looks out for fast-moving comets, asteroids and other celestial objects in the night sky.

This comet has also an interesting composition. It is made up of rocky materials, rather than the usual ice. 

Researchers believe that the Manx comet was formed in our solar system, around the same time as the Earth itself. However, they concluded that it was booted out of our system at an early stage, just as the planets were jostling around and getting to its current positions.

The study said it has been preserved in the Oort cloud for billions of years and is now making a comeback to our solar system.

Lead author Karen Meech of the University of Hawai'i said in a press release that this is the "first uncooked asteroid" that astronomers could study. She said, "It has been preserved in the best freezer there is."

This new discovery can lead to other stems of studies on our solar system. However, there isn't much time to dilly-dally.

New Scientist reported that the team hopes to find 100 more similar Manx objects, but they have to ask fast. It was only 18 months after the discovery of the C/2014 S3 that they were able to observe it under a full moon. Soon after their observations, the sun blocked it from view. It cannot be seen for another 860 years.

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