Washington, Dec 24 (ANI): New observations have suggested that an asteroid discovered more than 100 years ago may not be an asteroid at all, but an extinct comet that is coming back to life.
Steve Larson, of the Catalina Sky Survey, was searching for potentially hazardous asteroids when he came across what looked like a comet: a faint, wispy tail surrounding a bright, star-like core.
Four images taken over the course of 30 minutes have revealed the object was moving relative to the background stars.
"Its brightness of a total magnitude of 13.4 visual, which is about 900 times fainter than the faintest star you can see in a clear, dark sky, led me to suspect that it was a known comet, but I checked the comet database and got nothing," said Larson.
According to Larson, comets are thought to be a major source of Earth's water, and "extinct" comets may be useful resources for space exploration.
Further investigation revealed that the object was a known asteroid called (596) Scheila, discovered in 1906.
Previous analysis of (596) Scheila's color indicated that it is composed of primitive carbonaceous material left over from the formation of the solar system and might be an extinct comet.
"Most asteroids are collision fragments from larger asteroids and display a range of mineral composition But a fraction are thought to be former comets whose volatile ices have been driven off by the sun. If the activity in Scheila proves to be cometary in nature, this will be only the sixth known main-belt comet, and about 100 times larger than previously identified main belt comets," explained Larson.(ANI)