It’s not a comet, it’s not an asteroid. No one is entirely sure what it is.
An object currently cruising through our solar system is set to pass by earth next month and make it’s closest approach on February 25th at a distance of 51 million kilometers, or 32 million miles. Known as 2016 WF9, the object was first spotted by NASA’s NEOWISE project on November 27th – and no one knows what it is.
It’s unclear if it’s a comet or an asteroid, or something entirely different. Distinctions between comets and asteroids are as follows: comets are icy with long tails, whereas asteroids are mainly comprised of rocks and metals. What’s interesting is that this object is neither; it’s similar to a comet in that it surface is dark and unreflective, yet it doesn’t have the dust and ice tail we usually see. The mystery is also causing a confusion as to it’s origin.
“2016 WF9 could have cometary origins. This object illustrates that the boundary between asteroids and comets is a blurry one; perhaps over time this object has lost the majority of the volatiles that linger on or just under its surface.”
– Deputy Principal Investigator James Bauer at NASA JPL
The object will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the first weeks of 2017. Look towards the southeastern sky in the hours leading up to sunrise. If conditions are right, it’s possible the object may be visible with a set of binoculars.
We’re currently looking into where the object is located in the solar system. It could be possible this is a comet that has not gotten close enough to the sun – thus it has not started to melt away it’s core producing an icy tail. This is however unlikely, as all recorded comets visible from Earth have had a significant tail prior to their arrival near Earth’s orbit.
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