Who'd have thought it? Cross-dressing is no longer the preserve of humans, cameleons, magnetars and wolves in sheep's clothing. Comets are now in on the act.
New research announced today describes the finding that many of the mysterious objects that populate orbits between Jupiter and Neptune are in fact comets. Cross-dressing comets! Live and let live is what I say.
GALLERY: Close Encounters with Comets
In all honesty, astronomers have always been a little dubious about these objects' origins, hence why these objects were named "centaurs." Centaurs in Greek mythology are part human, part horse. Celestial centaurs therefore always had some odd characteristics that fell into the comet and asteroid category.
However, at least part of the centaur debate has been settled by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).
During the latter stages of the WISE mission, the orbiting space telescope entered the "warm" phase of its extended mission when the onboard coolant ran dry in October 2010. In an attempt to catalog previously unnoticed near-Earth objects (NEOs), WISE was used to spy out the weak infrared signal these objects emit. As part of the four-month NEOWISE mission, centaurs (and their scattered-disk object cousins) were surveyed and at least two thirds of the objects were found to be comets, not asteroids.