Stretching out as far as the orbit of Jupiter, the once known asteroid named Don Quixote appears to be more than what it was originally thought to be. This large near-earth asteroid has been wondering around for 30 years keeping to itself, now appears to be a comet instead. Astronomers from Northern Arizona University have discovered a faint coma around Don Quixote and what appears to be a tail behind it.
For those of you who don’t know, there are two main differences between an asteroid and a comet, chemical composition and orbit. Asteroids are made up of a chemical composition that does not produce an atmosphere, while comets have a nucleus composed of volatile material that loosens nearer to the sun which gives it a coma appearance along with a thin transient atmosphere. As far as the orbit goes, an asteroid has an elliptical orbit in which its distance from the sun does not vary too much. A comet has an eccentric orbit causing its distance from the sun to vary greatly.
Upon further research using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope astronomers have discovered carbon dioxide emissions and presumably water ice about 11 miles long on Don Quixote using Spitzer’s infrared wavelengths. This gives Don Quixote the chemical composition needed to be a comet. The tail discovered behind it gives the impression that its orbit is not elliptical but rather eccentric. The exciting news about this discovery is it implies that water ice and carbon dioxide may exist on other near-Earth asteroids as well, which can open up a lot of doors and possibilities when exploring the unknown of space.