In what has been described as a first in the world of astronomy, researchers discovered a tailless comet, or, as scientist call it, a “Manx” comet. This is one celestial being that may provide the answer to many pressing questions about the origins and evolution of our solar system.
The tailless comet, which was given the official codename C2014/S3, got its more descriptive moniker from the tailless cat of the same name. Researchers noted that it is composed of rocky materials typically found near our planet. This in itself is a peculiarity, given that most comets are composed of frozen materials such as ice, and were formed in the freezing outer regions of solar systems. With this in mind, it is possible that the Manx comet was formed relatively near Earth before getting shuttled off to the outer regions as planets settled into position in the solar system’s early days.
Aside from the recently discovered comet, the scientists involved in the new study are interested in finding out whether the Manx comet is a one-off anomaly or if there are others of its kind. This could point to clues regarding the timeline when the planets in our solar system made it to their current formation, and how they moved around to that end.
“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,” said study co-author Olivier Hainaut of the European Southern Observatory in a press release.
C/2014 S3 was first spotted in 2014 by the Pan-STARRS (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System), a network of telescopes designed to find fast-moving bodies in the evening skies. It was found with hardly a hint of a tail, about twice the distance of Earth from our Sun. According to study lead Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii, the tailless comet was found in perfect condition, hinting that it had been in the outer reaches of the solar system for quite a while, far away from the Sun’s exposure.
“We already knew of many asteroids, but they have all been baked by billions of years near the sun,” she said. “This one is the first uncooked asteroid we could observe — it has been preserved in the best freezer there is.”