NASA scientists have reported their first confirmed evidence of a comet nucleus, the first time the Orion NGC 710 has existed in the habitable zone of the sun for at least five billion years.
The cometoid C/2011 H1, which is not believed to be a planet, was first spotted orbiting the sun on July 7. It has been estimated that the comet is approximately 1,330 feet across.
“This low-mass object is highly elliptical and not as far away as some other solar system objects such as exoplanets or comets,” said one of the scientists who discovered the first comet nucleus, Claudio Molino. “Therefore, our analysis suggests it has been around for at least 1 billion years and may be within the galactic neighborhood.”
While some scientists have said it could only be a normal cosmic body passing through the solar system, Molino and his team say they know it is a comet because it has enough energy to be transported by cosmic jets that emanate from the halo, the solar wind, around the comet nucleus.
In the past, scientists only encountered comets during their operations, but this time around they observed them on the ground by fly-bys and fly-ins. There were also thousands of observations available at any one time so this is not something new, nor a new discovery.
“Once Comet NGC 710 was spotted it was a live show for astronomers,” said another scientist who collaborated on the discovery, Lauren Comstina, “Across 20 hours of observations, we saw the objects rotation, and we even found two associated rotational anomalies on the comet nucleus. There were so many new images, “Comstina said.
In the commentary accompanying the observations, Comstina and Molino explain that the comet has very low energy and is being explored due to this.
“It’s rather unique that this comet is in the habitable zone of the sun because we have found a comet that had a low energy, rich energy, and actually was intact in its magnetic field,” Comstina said. “The coma can have magnetic energy also, but that one has as much as 270 times more energy and is not intact.”