There’s a strange half-asteroid, half-comet object in the solar system

It has a long, thin tail and scatters dust as it travels. Dubbed 2005 QN173, it is a rare object with traits of both an asteroid and a comet.

A rare object with traits of both an asteroid and a comet has been identified in our solar system. Dubbed 2005 QN173, it orbits like any other asteroid, but while most of these objects are rocks that don't change much during their journey, this one scatters dust and sports a long, thin comet-like tail. Scientists say it may be covered in icy material that evaporates into space, although comets usually follow elliptical paths that regularly approach and retreat from the sun.

The object half asteroid and half comet

"It fits the physical definitions of a comet, in that it is likely icy and is ejecting dust into space, although it also has the orbit of an asteroid," Henry Hsieh, lead author of the research and a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, explained in a note. "This duality blurs the line between what was previously thought to be two completely separate types of objects: asteroids and comets," he added, noting that this very feature makes 2005 QN173 extremely interesting. Despite its comet-like characteristics, the object's orbit is definitely that of an asteroid: it revolves silently around the Sun in the outer part of the asteroid belt that falls between Mars and Jupiter, once every 5 years or so.

2005 QN 173 has a core 3.2 kilometers in diameter and a tail over 720,000 kilometers long by 1,400 kilometers wide. When it was discovered in 2005, the mysterious celestial body was classified as an asteroid because of its orbit, but subsequent observations have shown it to be strangely active with a tail similar to those formed on comets. The study of the object half asteroid and half comet could also have implications for the appearance of life on Earth. Scientists believe that part of the water of our planet comes from the impact with asteroids from the main belt between Mars and Jupiter. If asteroid-cometal hybrids such as 2005 QN 173 contain ice, we may be able to better understand the presence and distribution of icy objects in the innermost portion of the Solar System.

Studies on what rotates or travels around our Sun are numerous and continue to reveal news, another research, has suggested that in the solar system there may also be a ninth planet hitherto unknown.

Stefania Bernardini