Newfound comet likely an 'interstellar visitor,' scientists say

Federico Mansilla
Setiembre 13, 2019

At the time of discovery, C/2019 was about 3 AU away from Earth.

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Bottom line: Astronomers discovered the second interstellar object on August 30, 2019. It has now been given the official name of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) by the Minor Planet Center.

In October 2017, astronomers identified an asteroid-like rock known as Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to pass through our solar system.

The trajectory of the comet, first detected by Crimean astronomer Gennady Borisov, follows a highly curved path barreling in the sun's direction at unusually high speeds, evidence that it originated beyond the solar system.

While the object's origin hasn't officially been confirmed, astronomers will get a closer look at it when it enters the inner section of the solar system on October 26. Then, using mathematical models, astronomers fit the measurements to an orbit, which lets them see where the object came from.

Hainaut said, "The main difference from Oumuamua and this one is that we got it a long, long time in advance". "Now astronomers are much more prepared". C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), on the other hand, is clearly an active comet, with a visible coma and tail.

'We don't know how bright it's going to be. The dust could make C/2019 Q4 simpler to track than 'Oumuamua, since dust brightly reflects sunlight.

With more observations of the object, scientists have begun calculating the shape of its orbit. "Is it like comets that we see in the solar system, or is it completely different?"

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

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After this initial observation, the Scout system at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory also flagged the object as possibly originating from outside of our solar system.

Initially, scientists thought C/2019 Q4 could be one of these objects, but with more observations, it's looking more and more like C/2019 Q4 is interstellar. The measurements so far suggest C/2019 Q4 is interstellar, but not all objects confirmed to have a hyperbolic orbit are interstellar visitors.

The comet is now 260 million miles (420 million kilometers) from the Sun and will reach its closest point, or perihelion, on December 8, 2019, at a distance of about 190 million miles (300 million kilometers).

In an interview with Business insider, Oliver Hainaut, the astronomer who studied the first asteroid said, "We had to scramble for telescope time", Hainaut said.

If it's interstellar, C/2019 Q4 would reach its closest point to the sun at the end of December, and scientists should be able to observe it through about January 2021.

Professional stargazer Robert Weryk first spotted the interstellar traveller in October, 2017 at the University of Hawaii's Haleakala Observatory.

This illustration depicts Comet C/2019 Q4's trajectory.

The vast majority of asteroids and comets that astronomers have tracked to date follow an elliptical orbit: oval or egg-shaped or almost circular.

Bannister noted that, with such limited observations, an object can appear to have a rare interstellar orbit but later turn out to have an orbit within our solar system.

However, because its current position is in line with the Sun, observations are hard for the next couple of months.

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