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'Lazarus Comets' Resurrected after Millions of Years of Dormancy, Lies Between Mars and Jupiter

Update Date: Aug 03, 2013 12:05 AM EDT

A graveyard of comets has been discovered in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, astronomers said Friday, and the inactive comets are being dubbed "Lazarus" comets as they have the ability to spring back to life after millions of years of inactivity.

Colombian scientists made the startling discovery of these so-called "Lazarus" comets, described in the Monthly Notices of the  Royal Astronomical Society, and said they may hold the clue to these wanderers of the Solar System.

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. These chunks of ice and rock are often perceived as "falling stars," but are now being seen as "Lazarus" comets, a nod to the biblical figure Lazarus who was resurrected by Jesus Christ several days after his death.

"We found a graveyard of comets", said Ignacio Ferrín of the University of Anitoquia in Medellin, Colombia, according to the AFP. "Imagine all these asteroids going around the Sun for aeons, 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."

Comets are believed to originate on the edge of the planetary system and have stretched and oval-shaped orbit patterns around the sun. The trips are also believed to be only once every several thousand years. Shorter trips, only lasting a hundred centuries or so, are known to be similar to such sightings as Haley's Comet.

Ferrín noted that these "Lazarus" comets can get reactivated when they pass relatively close to Jupiter, the biggest planet of the Solar System, and the shape of their orbits is tugged.

This can decrease the distance between the comet and the Sun, resulting in a tiny rise in average temperature which in turn warms the subsurface ice and the gases it contains.

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