Scientists discover something very curious about our second interstellar visitor

16 Octobre, 2019, 10:13 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Comet is hurtling into the solar system at 72,000 miles an hour

The first interstellar object ever discovered was an oddball called 'Oumuamua whose behavior left some astronomers wondering whether it was an asteroid or a comet. The new paper both confirms that Comet Borisov comes from outside our solar system and offers preliminary evidence suggesting that the object isn't very different from the comets that clutter our own solar system.

Observatory on Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii at sunset. The oblong, cigar-shaped object was first discovered in October 2017 but was no longer observable by telescopes as of January 2018. "This code was written specifically for this goal, and we really hoped to receive this message one day".

When an object as interesting as an interstellar comet comes around, astronomers are bound to swing into action to study it as much as possible, so the scientists behind the new paper are hardly the only ones reaching similar conclusions about the object.

The speed of 2I/Borisov and the nature of its orbital path demonstrated that it did not originate in our solar system, Jagiellonian University astronomer Piotr Guzik said.

Since spotting the comet, scientists and astronomers have been busy getting to know more about the newest "interloper".

In the last few weeks, astronomers have confirmed the second known rocky object zipping through our solar system that came from another star. "'Make of this what you will, but based on these initial characteristics, this object appears indistinguishable from the native Solar System comets", said Guzik.

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Interstellar Borisov Comet [Image Source: IAU] The name of the heavenly body follows the tradition of naming comets after their discoverers.

Early measurements put the comet at anywhere between 1.9 and 16 kilometres in diameter, according to Karen Meech at the University of Hawaii.

The more detailed observations reveal that this alien comet, now called 2I/Borisov, is similar in color to our own solar system's comets, which are a little on the reddish side. "We immediately noticed the familiar coma and tail that were not seen around "Oumuamua", said Michal Drahus of the Jagiellonian University, who co-led the study with Guzik". "This is really cool because it means that our new visitor is one of these mythical and never-before-seen "real" interstellar comets", Drahus said. The team found that the comet is more normal than once thought, and is extremely similar to the comets that are now floating around our sun.

As the National Geographic reports, the space rock will come to within 180 million miles of Earth on 29 December and will make its closest approach to the Sun on 7 December.

"The object will peak in brightness in mid-December and continue to be observable with moderate-size telescopes until April 2020", Dave Farnocchia at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. "We can safely say that research on this body will be transformative for planetary astronomy and a milestone for astronomy in general", Guzik said.


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