Gigantic ‘Alien’ Comet Heads Straight to the Sun

A giant comet, identified as 96P/Machholz 1, is approaching the orbit of our Sun, and researchers think it is a celestial body that belongs to an outside solar system.

Isabel Cara

Gigantic ‘Alien’ Comet Heads Straight to the Sun

An unusually huge comet has been spotted heading straight to the Sun, and experts believe it could be an “alien” comet from another solar system in deep space. With an impressive size of 3.7 miles across, this comet, named 96P/Machholz 1, is being monitored by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Objects from the Far Reaches of the Solar System

We should not make a confusion between asteroids and comets, because the former are made of rock and the remains of collisions between objects that have been left wandering in the Solar System aand, on the contrary, the latter ones come from the confines of our planetary system, and it is not yet clear how they are formed, although it is known that they are made mainly of a core of ice with a mixture of gases.

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[Photo: NASA]

When they are wandering far into the confines of our planetary system, they often go undetected. It is not until they enter the orbits of the planets that they get observed, and calculations of their trajectories increase in precision as they get closer to the Sun. This is because comets do not activate their brightness until they are positioned very close to the host star, and it is at this moment when the extreme temperatures of the Sun activate their ice and generate a detachment of gases that are responsible for the production of the characteristic trails of comets.

An ‘Alien’ Giant Comet

Comets are usually small objects, less than 32 feet across, but Comet 96P/Machholz 1 is an impressive one, with a size of almost 3.7 miles wide. It was first discovered in May 1986 by astronomer Donald Mchholz and has intrigued researchers ever since.

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[Photo: SOHO/NASA]

This “alien” comet is unusual in many ways, starting with the sheer size that allows it to approach the Sun well beyond Mercury’s orbit without suffering any damage. Comets are commonly pulverized by the Sun’s extreme conditions, but 96P/Machholz 1 has remained intact despite coming unusually close to our host star.

Also, this “alien” comet does not have a similar composition to other similar objects. Actually, in 2007, a material analysis made from the composition of various comets found that 96P/Machholz 1 contained less than 1.5% of the expected levels of gaseous chemical cyanogen, which is responsible for igniting comatose tails. In addition to this, the giant comet has atypically low carbon levels, so astronomers concluded that it could be an intruder from another solar system.

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[Photo: NASA]

Researchers hope to obtain more precise data to decipher the origin of this “alien” comet now that it has just crossed its perihelion a few days ago. The object approached the Sun about three times closer than the orbit of Mercury, the first planet in the Solar System.

For all we know now, this intruder probably found its strange orbit after being ejected from its original system by the gravity of a giant planet. After this, perhaps it wandered through space until it encountered the gravitational influence of Jupiter, which could have twisted its trajectory and then become trapped in our solar system.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera