A mysterious object, 2016 WF9, will be cruising past Earth next month. Since it has unusual characteristics, NASA cannot figure out whether the object is a comet or an asteroid.
The object was found by NASA’s asteroid-and-comet-hunting NEOWISE project on November 27th, 2016. It is believed to be as large as 1 kilometer wide and will be at its closest point to Earth on February 25th, at about 51 million kilometers away.
Scientists at NASA can’t tell whether the object is an asteroid or a comet. Asteroids are usually rocky or metallic, while comets are icy. 2016 WF9 has been noticed to be dark and unreflective.
This would indicate that it is a comet, however it doesn’t have a dust and gas cloud, which are characteristic of comets.
The origin of the comet is also unknown. “2016 WF9 could have cometary origins,” Deputy Principal Investigator James “Gerbs” Bauer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. “This object illustrates that the boundary between asteroids and comets is a blurry one; perhaps over time this object has lost the majority of the volatiles that linger on or just under its surface.”
NASA ensures that the object is “not a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future”.
NASA has classified another object, the C/2016 U1 comet, which was spotted last year and is currently cruising around Earth right now.
According to Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center of Near-Earth Object (NEO) Studies at JPL, the C/2016 U1 comet has a good chance of becoming visible through a good pair of binoculars, although we can’t be sure because a comet’s brightness is notoriously unpredictable.”
The comet will be visible to the northern hemisphere during the first week of the January just before dawn. It is reportedly moving farther south each day.