NEOWISE mission of NASA had detected two celestial bodies approaching Earth, announced NASA on December 30, 2016. One of them is the 2016 WF9 and NASA is yet to determine what it exactly is, a comet or an asteroid. NEOWISE first spotted the 2016 WF9 on November 27, 2016.
The scientists have found that the object is following the path that takes it from Jupiter to the Earth’s orbit in about 4.9 years. With that timeline, the celestial object is expected to approach Earth’s orbit by February 25. It will fly by the Earth at a distance of 32 million miles or 51 million kilometers. With that distance, there are no chances of the object colliding with the earth or posing any such threat.
According to NASA, comets are cosmic snowballs made of frozen gasses, rock, and dust that are typically the size of a small town. When they get close to the sun, comets heat up and release dust and gasses. The 2016 WF9 has a dark appearance and reflects a very small amount of light from its surface. The reflectivity and orbit are in line with that of a comet, but it doesn’t have the cloud of dust and gas that the comets are identified by.
It has a diameter of about 0.5 to 1 kilometer or 0.3 to 0.6 miles. The 2016 WF9 is in a confused state as it cannot be identified as a comet or an asteroid. Astronomers say that celestial bodies like the 2016 WF9 can have multiple origins and it is a possibility that the 2016 WF9 was once a comet.
In either case, if the object turns out to be a comet, I would be NEOWISE’s 10th discovery of a comet since December 2013, and if it is an asteroid, the 2016 WF9 would be the 100th asteroid discovered by the NEOWISE.
Source: Tech Times