picture of the day
of the three known main-belt comets (red lines), the five innermost
planets (black lines; from the center outward:
and Jupiter), a sample of 100 main-belt asteroids (orange lines),
and two "typical" comets
(Halley's Comet, and Tempel 1, target of
Deep Impact mission) as blue lines. Positions of the main-belt
and planets on March 1, 2006, are plotted with black dots.
Image credit: Pedro Lacerda (Univ. Hawaii; Univ. Coimbra, Portugal)
Apr 07, 2006
When Asteroids Become Comets
The surprising discovery of asteroids with comet tails supports the
longstanding claim of the electrical theorists—that the essential
difference between asteroids and comets is the shape of their orbits.
According to a recent story in USA Today, astronomers are “rethinking
long-held beliefs about the distant domains of comets and asteroids,
abodes they've always considered light-years apart”. The discovery has
forced astronomers to speculate that some asteroids are actually “dirty
snowballs in disguise”.
For many years the standard view of asteroids asserted that they are
composed of dust, rock, and metal and that most occupy a belt between
Mars and Jupiter. In contrast, comets were claimed to arrive from a home
in deep space, most coming from an imagined “Oort Cloud” at the
outermost reaches of the solar system, where they are supposed to have
accreted from leftover dust and ices from the formation of the solar
But now, “the locales of comets and asteroids may not be such a key
distinction”, states Dan Vergano, reporting on the work of two
University of Hawaii astronomers, Henry Hsieh and David Jewitt. In a
survey of 300 asteroids lurking in the asteroid belt, the astronomers
detected three objects that “look a lot like comets … ejecting little
comet tails at times from their surfaces”. The three red circles in the
illustration above describe the orbits of these bodies
Of course, this is not the first instance of an 'asteroid' sporting a
cometary tail. The asteroid Chiron, orbiting between Saturn and Uranus,
was seen to develop a coma and tail between 1988 and 1989. It is now
officially classified as both an asteroid and a comet. Chiron belongs to
a class of objects called 'Centaurs' crossing the orbits of various gas
giants. Though they move on minimally eccentric orbits through a
relatively remote and weak region of the Sun’s electric field, Wallace
Thornhill and other electrical theorists believe these bodies should all
be watched carefully for telltale signs of minor cometary activity. And
in fact the asteroid 60558 Echeclus, discovered in 2000, did display a
cometary coma detected in 2005, and it too is now classified as both an
asteroid and a comet.
In the electric view, there is no fundamental distinction between a
comet and an asteroid, apart from their orbits. Comets are not
primordial objects formed by impact accretion – an improbable and
unfalsifiable model (“it happened long, long ago and far, far away”).
Asteroids, comets and meteorites are all 'born' in interplanetary
electrical events. Their distinctive orbital groupings and spectral
features simply point to separate catastrophic events and to different
planetary bodies involved in different phases of solar system history.
A comet is simply an electrical display and was recognized as such by
scientists in the 19th century. So an 'asteroid' on a sufficiently
elliptical orbit will do precisely what a comet does—it will discharge
electrically. What distinguishes the cometary 'asteroids', observed by
the University of Hawaii astronomers, are the paths they follow, moving
them through the radial electric field of the Sun to a greater extent
than is typical of other bodies in the 'asteroid belt' (See chart
above). Cometary effects may also be expected from an asteroid if it
passes through the huge electric comet tail [called the magnetosphere]
of a giant planet.
The astronomers’ recent investigation only reinforces the argument of
the electrical theorists: The electric model is eminently testable, with
highly specific and unique predictions; and it has so far met every test
provided by the space age.
Please visit our new "Thunderblog" page
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The Electric Sky and The Electric Universe