Researchers Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo from the Carnegie Institution of Washington discovered an unexpected tail on 62412, an object which had been known as a typical asteroid for over a decade.

"Until about ten years ago, it was pretty obvious what a comet was and what a comet wasn't, but that is all changing as we realize that not all of these objects show activity all of the time," Sheppard said.

In the past, asteroids were thought to be mostly unchanging objects, but an improved ability to observe them has allowed scientists to discover tails and commas.

The team found that 62412 has a very fast rotation that is likely to shift material around its surface, some of which may be emitted to form the comet-like appearance.

The tail may be created directly from ejected material off the fast rotating nucleus, or from ice within the asteroid subliming into water vapour after being freshly exposed on the surface.

Sheppard and Trujillo will present their findings at the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Science Meeting being held in Tucson, USA, from November 9-14.

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