A space rock, one scientists have named Oumuamua, recently made a visit to our solar system. Scientists have been collectively losing their minds studying the asteroid, but it turns out that may not be an accurate description of it.
As it turns out, Oumuamua may be coated in a thick layer of organic material, which astronomers believe is protecting a store of ice within the rock. This material could have acted like a shield to prevent the ice from boiling and evaporating when it passed close to our Sun, making it more of a comet than the asteroid we thought it was.
That’s because of the technical differentiation between the two; asteroids are rock and metal fused together into a solid piece, whereas comets are a mixture of ice and rocks instead. In fact, astronomers believe that most of the objects travelling in interstellar space are more likely comets than asteroids. After all, when our solar system was forming, the larger planets tossed out trillions of ice-rock bodies to the outer edges of the system. In which case, it’s likely planets on other star systems did the same.
That’s the reason astronomers first called Oumuamua a comet when they pinpointed that it was a visitor here from outside our solar system. Then they reclassified it as an asteroid when they didn’t find signs of the traditional comet tail of gas and dust. Now, after finding clues to what might be ice within, Oumuamua is a comet once more. At least, it’s something like a comet even if it doesn’t behave like one.
Of course, there’s still a lot more astronomers could learn about Oumuamua. If they could get to it that is. Not only is the rock body a tony one, it’s also currently heading away from Earth, meaning it’s going to be impossible to see with a telescope soon. All they can do, is continue to analyse the data they currently have, in the hopes of making any new connections.