It was star-grazing.
A giant “alien” comet had a recent near-miss with our solar system’s most notorious star: the sun.
Experts believe the comet – known formally as 96P/Machholz 1 – came from somewhere else beyond our solar system. The intergalactic “ice ball,” which measured 3.7 miles wide, was plummeting toward the sun earlier this week, and its close encounter was caught on camera by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.
Typical comets are dissolved when approaching the sun so close, but the grandeur of 96P – more than two-thirds the height of Mount Everest, according to LiveScience – kept it from completely dissipating.
“96P is one of the most compositionally and behaviorally weird comets in the solar system,” Karl Battams, the director of the US Naval Research Laboratory’s Sungrazer Project in Washington, DC, said in a tweet last month.
“We are trying to science the heck out of it,” he added.
96P, researchers believe, was catapulted into our solar system due to the gravity of another planet. Following its sudden ejection, the comet may have run into Jupiter, altering its path and making its way toward the sun.
Tails of comets are usually comprised of gas, but further analysis of its material shedding in 2008 found that its wake contained lower levels of cyanogen and carbon than expected, a reason scientists think the comet could be visiting from a different solar system.
Meanwhile, others hypothesize that the comet, which was first discovered in the 1980s, isn’t “alien” but, rather, that it originated from a foreign place in our system.
The near-collision came just as the infamous green comet – known as Comet C/2022 E3 – is slated to be visible to the naked eye. Beginning this week, eager stargazers could catch a glimpse of the comet barreling through space with its emerald trail.