A mysterious interstellar object is approaching our solar system

C/2019 Q4

An amateur astronomer has discovered a comet that could come from outside our Solar System.

Professional stargazer Robert Weryk first spotted the interstellar traveller in October, 2017 at the University of Hawaii's Haleakala Observatory. Formally named C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), the object appears to have come from outside our 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.

The object, now provisionally called C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), was detected by amateur Ukrainian astronomer Gennady Borisov at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory using a telescope he built himself on August 30. But this comet will reach its perihelion, or closest flyby of the sun on December 10, which should give the scientific community ample time to at least partially study it and take a peak at what life is like outside of our solar system.

The comet, an apparent amalgam of ice and dust, is expected to make its closest approach to the sun on December 8, putting it 190 million miles (300 million km) from Earth, on a route believed unique to such objects of interstellar origin.

At the time it was about three astronomical units or 450 million km from our Sun. Though now around a brightness magnitude around 18 -too dim to be seen with a small telescope - the comet is expected to brighten to around 15 magnitude. Since then, other astronomers like Micheli have confirmed its existence.

A hyperbolic orbit is an eccentric one, where the shape deviates substantially from that of a ideal circle.


After the initial detection, NASA's Scout system (located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California) automatically flagged the object as possibly interstellar. With observations of rocky and icy material that formed in other solar systems, astronomers will start to get a sense of what the planets and other celestial bodies orbiting distant stars are made of. That cigar-shaped rock became a viral sensation after a couple of scientists began to openly speculate on whether it might actually be an extraterrestrial spacecraft of intelligent origin, because of its hot-dog structure and its acceleration while exiting from the inner 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.

"It could be a few days or a few weeks before we have enough data to definitively say". "I think at this point ... we're pretty confident".

The first known interstellar object to visit our Solar System was 'Oumuamua-disappointingly not an extraterrestrial spacecraft coming to spy on Earth. This comet's stay should be a bit longer.

For only the second time ever, astronomers believe they've spotted an object that's something of a cosmic rogue. And since it's still inbound, there will be plenty of opportunity to study it in the months to come.

What do we know about our new interstellar guest?

"It's the next best thing to sending a probe to a different solar system".

While observations of interstellar objects are incredibly rare, it is estimated that several such objects pass within Earth's orbit every year undetected.

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