Has our solar system been visited by another interstellar object? Comet spotted by amateur astronomer may come from elsewhere in space
- Another interstellar object may be passing through our solar system
- The Minor Planet Center have keyed in on a recently identified comet
- Object C/2019 Q4 appears to be a traveler from another galaxy they say
- Estimates show that it could stay in our solar system for up to a year
- It would be the second identified interstellar object after Oumuamua
An amateur astronomer says our solar system may have another visitor from deep space.
According to an announcement from the Minor Planet Center, an object spotted at the end of August by amateur astronomer, Gennady Borisov, in Crimea, is likely the second known interstellar object to make a pit stop in our corner of the galaxy.
Astronomers say the object, preliminarily dubbed C/2019 Q4, appears to be a comet given what they have identified as a tail streaking behind the interstellar visitor while it moves through space.
On Thursday, the center released an official ‘circular’ — a document detailing information on the object’s orbit — which highlighted the apparent comet’s eccentric pattern.
‘Based on the available observations, the orbit solution for this object has converged to the hyperbolic elements shown below, which would indicate an interstellar origin.’ reads document.
While that hyperbolic pattern — which differs from the elliptical shape of objects in our solar system — shows that the object will likely leave our solar system for good, it also portends a longer stay and much more in-depth look than previous interstellar travelers.
Estimates on C/2019 Q4 project that the object could remain within our solar system for between six months to a full year, meaning astronomers may be able to get a particularly good look at its features, on its brightness.
‘We don’t know how bright it’s going to be. That’s always an issue with comets, so you’ve got that unpredictability, combined with the fact that it is interstellar. And this is the first interstellar comet we’ve seen,’ astronomy-software developer Bill Gray, told Forbes.
Previously, astronomers identified an asteroid-like rock known as Oumuamua, the first known interstellar object to pass through our solar system.
The mysterious cigar-shaped projectile, formally named object 1I/2017 U1, resembles both a comet and an asteroid, however, it doesn’t conform to many of the other defining features usually associated with these objects, including its direction of spin and lack of a tail.
The newest mysterious object is similar to one identified in July called Oumuamua (pictured in a rendering to the left). Researchers say the most recent visitor, however, is observable for much longer, likely staying in our solar system for up to a year.
Conversely, when astronomers spotted Oumuamua, they had just three weeks to observe it before it left our solar system.
Professional stargazer Robert Weryk first spotted the interstellar traveler in October, 2017 at the University of Hawaii’s Haleakala Observatory.
Researchers had just weeks to collect as much data as possible before the strange visitor traveled beyond the reach of Earth’s telescopes.
The object is now out of sight but could take up to 20,000 years before it leaves our solar system onto its next destination.
Interstellar objects like the ones recently discovered are particularly exciting for astronomers since they offer a rare, glimpse of what other parts of the galaxy may look like.
Astronomers will now be able to compare their findings on Oumuamua with the most recent specimen.
WHAT IS ‘OUMUAMUA AND WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT IT?
A cigar-shaped asteroid named ‘Oumuamua sailed past Earth at 97,200mph (156,428km/h) in October.
It was first spotted by a telescope in Hawaii on 19 October, and was observed 34 separate times in the following week.
It is named after the Hawaiian term for ‘scout’ or ‘messenger’ and passed the Earth at about 85 times the distance to the moon.
It was the first interstellar object seen in the solar system, and it baffled astronomers.
Initially, it was thought the object could be a comet.
However, it displays none of the classic behaviour expected of comets, such as a dusty, water-ice particle tail.
The asteroid is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated – perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide.
That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or asteroid observed in our solar system to date.
But the asteroid’s slightly red hue — specifically pale pink — and varying brightness are remarkably similar to objects in our own solar system.
Around the size of the Gherkin skyscraper in London, some astronomers were convinced it was piloted by aliens due to the vast distance the object traveled without being destroyed – and the closeness of its journey past the Earth.
Alien hunters at SETI – the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence based at Berkeley University, California said there was a possibility the rock was ‘an alien artefact’.
But scientists from Queen’s University Belfast took a good look at the object and said it appears to be an asteroid, or ‘planetesimal’ as originally thought.
Researchers believe the cigar-shaped asteroid had a ‘violent past’, after looking at the light bouncing off its surface.
They aren’t exactly sure when the violent collision took place, but they believe the lonely asteroid’s tumbling will continue for at least a billion years.