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Explainer: when is an asteroid a comet?

Asteroids that look like comets might teach us more about how water came to Earth.

White dots against blue background, showing stars and a comet
Composite image of (248370) 2005 QN173 taken with Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope in California on July 12, 2021. The head, or nucleus, of the comet is in the upper left corner, with the tail stretching down and to the right, getting progressively fainter farther from the nucleus. Stars in the field of view appear as short dotted lines due to the apparent motion of Solar System objects against background stars and the process of adding together multiple images to increase the visibility of the tail. Credit: Henry H. Hsieh (PSI), Jana Pittichová (NASA/JPL-Caltech).
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