A strange comet has returned after billions of years away.
Scientists have just spotted something very strange: a comet that has no tail that may have been around for Earth’s formation.
The first-of-its-kind tailless comet may answer some of the many questions we have about how the solar system formed and evolved, according to an ESO statement.
The paper, published in the journal Science Advances, is what is known as a “Manx” comet, which is named after a cat breed that doesn’t have a tail. It is made of rocky materials that are found near Earth, suggesting that this comet may have been in our general vicinity billions of years ago before heading off into deep space, thrown about by the planets.
The comet could provide clues on how the giant planets moved across the solar system in its early years — whether it was a violent dance or mostly quiet settling into the current orbital locations.
“The team immediately noticed that C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) was unusual, as it does not have the characteristic tail that most long-period comets have when they approach so close to the Sun,” the statement reads. “As a result, it has been dubbed a Manx comet, after the [tailless cat]. Within weeks of its discovery, the team obtained spectra of the very faint object with ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
“Careful study of the light reflected by C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) indicates that it is typical of asteroids known as S-type, which are usually found in the inner asteroid main belt,” the statement continued. “It does not look like a typical comet, which are believed to form in the outer Solar System and are icy, rather than rocky. It appears that the material has undergone very little processing, indicating that it has been deep frozen for a very long time. The very weak comet-like activity associated with C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS), which is consistent with the sublimation of water ice, is about a million times lower than active long-period comets at a similar distance from the Sun.”