C1014 S3: First In Manx Comets To Help Better Understanding Of Solar System


What many are unofficially calling a “unique object”, a fragment from the beginnings of the Earth has come back to our planet after billions of years.

A paper published yesterday in the Science Advances journal says the object, officially known as C/1014 S3 (PANSTARRS) was created in the inner Solar System at the same time that Earth was created. Karen Meech from the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy and leader of the study says the object was ejected very early on in the formation process.

According to their findings, the object is not an everyday asteroid that found its way out into space but a very ancient body of rock. This means it is most likely one of the earliest pieces of creation of rocky planets, including Earth. The object was sent out to the Oort Cloud and remained there for many billions of years. This particular asteroid shows no signs of spending time near the sun as every other asteroid found has been but has been persevered in what Meech calls the best freezer possible. C/2014 S3 was located by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope and was called a “weakly active” comet about two times the distance between Earth and the Sun. The orbital period has been documented as being between 800 and 900 years which means it is most likely from the Oort Cloud. Somewhere along its travels, it was bumped out of orbit, where it found its way a bit closer to the Sun to be later discovered.

unique fragment
Artist’s impression of the unique fragment named C/2014 S3 (PANSTARRS).
(Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

This particular asteroid is very unique because it does not have the tail that most long-living comets have once they get closer to the Sun. Many are calling it the Manx comet, after the popular tailless cat. Upon discovery, Chile began to observe the spectra with the help of ESO’s Very Large Telescope. This helped them to categorize the asteroid as an S-Type which one would typically find within the inner asteroid main belt. As it has been deep frozen for a long period of time, it does not show regular processing characteristics.

Further observation caused the study authors to come to the conclusion that the unique object is most likely made of inner Solar System material that was stored within the Oort Cloud. There are theoretical models produced regularly that show structures found within the Solar System, but these models differ in what they show within the Oort Cloud. Some show very differing amount of rocky and icky objects, leaving much to the imagination. The study of the solar system is never-ending and all researchers can do is hope for more of these asteroids to appear to help create a better and more accurate understanding of what lies in the outermost places of space.

orbit comet
Illustration showing the most likely orbit for Comet C/2014 S3 (Pan-STARRS), the first object discovered to be on a long-period cometary orbit. Current orbit of the comet takes 860 years to complete one cycle around the sun.
(Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada)

Olivier Hainaut, co-author of the study, says this is the first of many rocky comets the team hopes to locate. Depending on what is found, we will be able to understand how far planets have moved throughout the Solar System. While the team may be able to theorize, it would be refreshing to have additional information about the place we live in and what caused it to be as it is today. In a best case scenario, authors would love to see another 50 or so Manx comets in order to better calculate which models best display space as it truly is.