Astronomers have discovered a rocky, tail-less comet that may hold clues about the formation of our solar system. Dubbed comet Manx after the tail-less cat, the weakly active comet appears to be made of the inner solar system material from the time of our planet’s formation. Researchers at the University of Hawaii said in a statement that its source is in the Oort Cloud, a large shell of icy objects in the outermost region of the solar system.
It was bumped out of the Oort cloud only recently
The composition of the comet Manx or C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS) may answer some of the most pressing questions about the formation and evolution of our solar system. Its current orbital period of 860 years suggests that it was only recently bumped out of the Oort Cloud into an orbit that brings it closer to the sun. It is the first space rock to be discovered that has characteristics of an inner solar system comet.
Lead author Karen Meech concluded that the comet was ejected from the inner solar system quite early on in the system’s formation. It was a potential building block for rocky planets like Earth. Astronomers have known of several asteroids, but almost all of them have been baked by billions of years near the sun. Comet Manx was preserved mainly because it ended up in the Oort Cloud, the “best freezer there is.”
Comet Manx is an S-type asteroid
The comet was first identified by the PAN-STARRS1 telescope. Most long-orbit comets sprout a tail as they move so close to the sun, but this one has no stream of gas and dust behind it. Researchers used the ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile to examine it more closely. They said it was an S-type asteroid that is found in the inner asteroid main belt. But it is rocky rather than icy.
Theoretical models of the solar system formation predict different ratios of icy to rocky objects in the Oort Cloud. Discovery of the first ever rocky comet from the Oort Cloud will help researchers figure out which model is correct.