Friday 8 November 2013

The six-tailed cometsteroid!

OK, I made that word up. Still, this is a pretty cool discovery, and it belongs to a class of object which could do with a distinctive name.

There are certain bodies in the solar system that display characteristics of both comets and asteroids, and are thus classified as both. The centaurs, a family of objects that mostly orbit between Saturn and Uranus, are an example. Another example are the main belt comets, aka active asteroids. They have two names because they are both comets and asteroids, but not ordinary examples of either. They lie within the main asteroid belt, between 2.0 and 3.2 AU from the sun, but emit cometary tails due to solar heating of their volatiles. I think they could do with a new name. Perhaps cometoid? Asteret?

Whatever we're calling them, the newly discovered P/2013 P5 is unique. Continuing activity in the object's nucleus has led to multiple ejections of material over a five month period, resulting in a comet with six distinct visible tails. It's a fascinating object, seemingly rotating haphazardly and gradually disintegrating as it ejects mass.

io9 has a brief article on the find, linking to original study at the bottom.

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