Saturday, 9 August 2014

A close encounter of the unique kind

One day early last year, Australian comet hunter Robert H. McNaught spotted something unusual from his post at the Siding Spring Observatory in the foothills of the Warrumbungle Mountains, NSW….
Comet Siding Spring is especially interesting because of its formation in the Oort cloud during the early days of the solar system, making it a "long period" comet with an orbit of millions of years. What's more, it is believed to be what comet specialists call a virgin - one that has never reached the inner solar system.
As a result, its icy nucleus (the "dirty snowball" at the core of a comet) has never been thawed and reshaped, like those of comets that pass by more regularly.
"We've studied the nuclei of comets before but never a long-period comet from the Oort cloud," Zurek said. "The comet may well be bringing us primordial material unchanged since the creation of the solar system."

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