Interstellar Object May Have Entered Our Solar System

13 Septembre, 2019, 23:17 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Comet C/2019 Q4 as imaged by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii's Big Island on Sept. 10 2019

If such interstellar objects are as common as they appear to be, an upcoming space mission could be in a prime position to visit one in the not-too-distant future. It may pass near Mars in October. The first such visitor,'Oumuamua, took scientists by surprise in 2017. At the time of discovery, C/2019 was about 3 AU away from Earth. Even more amazingly, he managed to spot it on approach, meaning we'll have time to study it.

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First seen by Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea, on August 30, 2019, C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) is exhibiting a speed and trajectory that suggests that it came from outside the solar system.

Now on an inbound trajectory, comet C/2019 Q4 is heading toward the inner solar system and will enter it on October 26 from above at roughly a 40-degree angle relative to the ecliptic plane. Further observations by astronomers have determined that C/2019 Q4 is a comet stretching a couple miles wide, with a coma of gas and dust enveloping the object that forms when icy material is heated by the sun.

If it is, though, it would be only the second such object detected, following 'Oumuamua, first spotted in October 2017. "Now astronomers are much more prepared". They labeled it C/2019 Q4.

Hainaut told Business Insider, "Here we have something that was born around another star and travelling toward us. It's the next best thing to sending a probe to a different solar system".

The Very Large Telescope (VLT) is located in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

A hyperbolic orbit is an eccentric one, where the shape deviates substantially from that of a flawless circle. The official confirmation that comet C/2019 Q4 is an interstellar comet has not yet been made, but if it is interstellar, it would be only the second such object detected. There has also been speculation in the scientific community that Earth was hit by an interstellar object in 2014, Space.com added.

Interstellar Object May Have Entered Our Solar System

This rough simulation shows C/2019 Q4's possible orbital path (green) through the solar system.

"Last Sunday it was pretty on the fence whether it was just going to turn out to be an Oort Cloud comet", said Michele Bannister, an astronomer at Queen's University Belfast in Ireland. The closest it will come to Earth is a distance of 190 million miles. "This time, we're ready". To look at it right now through telescopes from our vantage point on Earth, it appears close to the sun.

According to NASA, C/2019 Q4 will be within reach of professional telescopes for months to come.

Although many astronomers are excited about C/2019 Q4, more work has to be done to confirm it as interstellar.

The vast majority of asteroids and comets that astronomers have tracked to date follow an elliptical orbit: oval or egg-shaped or almost circular. Follow-up observations confirmed it was on a "hyperbolic trajectory" that should have it zoom in and out of the solar system, with no return.

"Sometimes, we just have to wait for the motion of the heavens". C/2019 Q4 is now positioned close to the sun - which places it close to Earth's horizon and gives astronomers a very limited window of time before dawn to study it.

Could the object be something other than a comet?

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