Astronomers have seen what is thought to be only the second known interstellar object ever found. And currently a telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has obtained the clearest color picture of this vagabonding comet up to now.
Comet Borisov, or C/2019 Q4, because it is more formally known, probably came from someplace beyond our solar system and is now set to make its closest pass from sunlight at December before going back out to deep space.
The comet was initially seen by Ukrainian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov on Aug. 30 from Crimea, and over these weeks observatories across the globe have swung into action to attempt and make followup observations. One was that the Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea, which was able to catch the above picture on Monday evening.
C/2019 Q4 is the white object in the center with the fuzzy tail, or coma, a result of outgassing that defines a comet.
According to NASA, the comet is currently 260 million miles (420 million kilometers) from the sun and will come as close as about 190 million miles (300 million kilometers) on Dec. 8. This will keep it beyond the orbit of Mars as it passes through the top to bottom of our solar system’s plane.
“The comet’s current velocity is high, about 93,000 mph (150,000 kph), which is well above the typical velocities of objects orbiting the sun at that distance,” said Davide Farnocchia, of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies. “The high velocity indicates not only that the thing likely originated from outside our solar system, but also that it will leave and head back to interstellar space.”
The odds are good we’ll see this very foreign comet in far greater detail as it continues to come closer over all the next few months.
“The object will peak in brightness in mid-December and continue to be observable with moderate-size telescopes until April 2020,” stated Farnocchia. “After that, it will only be observable with larger professional telescopes through October 2020.”