Rare comet and asteroid hybrid’s tail stretches 724,000km

Scientists have found a rare object in our solar system that has the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid.

omets are usually found from the cold outer solar system, beyond the orbit of Neptune, and are caused by the transformation of ice into gas, a process known as sublimation.

Their elongated orbits only bring them close to the sun and Earth for a short period, which heats them and produces their signature tails.

Asteroids are usually found between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt and are thought to have been in the warm part of our system for nearly five billion years.

Typically, they contain no ice.

There are a few unusual exceptions to this dichotomy, known as “main belt comets”. This one, known as Asteroid 248370, is one of around 20 objects that have been confirmed or are suspected to exist.

“Asteroid 248370 can be thought of as both an asteroid and a comet, or more specifically a main-belt asteroid that has just recently been rec-
ognised to also be a comet,” Planetary Science Institute senior scientist Henry Hsieh  said.

“It fits the physical definitions of a comet in that it is likely icy and is ejecting dust into space, even though it also has the orbit of an asteroid.

“This duality and blurring of the boundary between what were previously thought to be two completely separate types of objects – asteroids and comets – is a key part of what makes these objects so interesting.”

The asteroid has a solid head around three kilometres across surrounded by a dust cloud, with a 724,000km tail but only 1,450km wide. (©Independent News Service)

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