A massive comet that scientists believe may have come from another solar system is streaking toward the sun, making its closest approach in more than half a decade on Tuesday, according to Live Science.
The comet, which scientists say is about 3.7 miles wide, is being monitored by the European Space Agency’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft. It is known as 96P/Machholz 1.
Researchers say the comet appears to have a different makeup from other comets they have studied.
“96P is a very atypical comet, both in composition and in behavior, so we never know exactly what we might see,” Karl Battams, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, told spaceweather.com. “Hopefully we can get some beautiful science out of this and share (it) with everyone as soon as we can.”
The comet was found to contain less than 1.5% of the expected levels of the chemical cyanogen, and is also low in carbon, according to Live Science.
The difference in 96P and other comets has led scientists to theorize that it was likely slung out of another solar system and pitched into this one, where it makes near-sun orbits.
An amateur astronomer discovered the comet on May 12, 1986. It has been able to make five close passes to the sun since then.
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