We've been spoiled with comet science lately. The Rosetta spacecraft orbited Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for about 18 months and sent back daily updates on how the comet is behaving and changing.
That mission is now over, but luckily there is a long-running mission that looks at sungrazers, or comets that pass really close to the sun. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft is designed to look at our nearest star ind its thin atmosphere, but luckily it can also watch comets swing by. In the last 20 years, it's discovered more than 3,000 of these objects.
Here's the neat thing - a minority of these sungrazers may not be comets after all. An object called 322P/SOHO 1 appears to have some properties of asteroids or space rocks, not that loose mix of ice and dust that comets are known for. This and other properties of sungrazers are discussed in a new paper led by Karl Battams, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. The paper is on the prepublishing service arXiv and has been accepted in the journal Philosophical Transactions A.
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"We found it kind of looks like an asteroid and it kinds of looks like a comet," Battams told Seeker. "There's a weird hybrid thing going on. The results were indeterminate, so we're not sure if this is something that was once a comet... or maybe an asteroid that got stuck. There's no definitive conclusion there."