Scientists have spotted an enormous, ‘alien’ comet streaking straight towards the sun.
The 3.7 mile-wide (6 kilometers) space iceball, called 96P/Machholz 1, is thought to have come from somewhere outside our solar system, and is being monitored by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft as it zips toward our star inside the orbit of Mercury, leaving an icy trail in its wake.
Comet tails are primarily composed of gas, which trickles behind the frozen clumps of ice and gas as they are heated by the sun’s radiation. In 2008, an analysis of the material shed by 150 comets found that 96P/Machholz 1 contained less than 1.5% of the expected levels of the chemical cyanogen, while also being low in carbon — leading astronomers to conclude that it could be an interloper from another solar system. Now, its plunge towards the sun might reveal even more of its secrets.
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