Astronomers have discovered a comet graveyard that could contain comets that become active after having been dormant for millions of years. The graveyard of comets was found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and the inactive comets could return to life rather easily.
The team of astronomers from the University of Anitoquia, in Medellin, Colombia, discovered the graveyard of comets in the asteroid belt after previous research from other astronomers discovered a dozen active comets in that region. The asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter contains millions of small celestial objects, ranging in size from 1 kilometer, 3,280 feet, to 800 kilometers, 497 miles, reports the Royal Astronomical Society.
Asteroids are remnants of disrupted planet formation, solid objects that could have become planets but the process was interrupted by the gravitational pull of Jupiter. Asteroids differ from comets as they are found closer to the sun and do not produce a temporary atmosphere, a coma, or a tail as they approach the sun whereas comets do.
Led by Ignacio Ferrin, an astronomy professor at the university, the team of researchers discovered the origin of the 12 recently discovered “Lazarus comets.” The comets received that name as a nod to the biblical figure Lazarus who was resurrected by Jesus Christ several days after his death.
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The source of these comets is a graveyard of comets located within the asteroid belt. The comets can come back to life with a little help from Jupiter. According to the astronomers, Jupiter’s gravity could change the comet’s orbit, bringing them closer to the sun, increasing the temperature, and restoring them to life.
Ferrin said in a statement, “Imagine all these asteroids going around the Sun for eons, with no hint of activity. We have found that some of these are not dead rocks after all, but are dormant comets that may yet come back to life if the energy that they receive from the Sun increases by a few per cent.”
The researchers believe the asteroid belt could have once held thousands of active comets but over time these comets lost energy and became dormant. Further study could determine the potential number of comets that once were active in the region and possibly identify potential Lazarus comets. The research was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.