Newfound Comet Likely An "Interstellar" Visitor, Say Scientists

Comet C/2019 Q4 as imaged by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii's Big Island on Sept. 10 2019

With 'Oumuamua, some astronomers speculated that the object might be an alien artifact, perhaps similar to the two Voyager spacecraft that are now hurtling outward away from our solar system, with their golden records attached. NASA called it a comet in its announcement, but, in another announcement from the European Space Agency, astronomers used the more neutral word "object". They named the object after the Hawaiian word for "scout". Astronomers hunted for signals from 'Oumuamua, but they didn't find any.

Encountering a piece of advanced technology developed by an extraterrestrial intelligence "might resemble an imaginary encounter of ancient cave people with a modern cell phone", said Harvard's Avi Loeb.

They found that the object is well outside the ecliptic (the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun) and is headed for the inner solar system at an angle of 40° and a present speed of 93,000 miles per hour (15,000 km/h).

The object, which has been officially named C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), was spotted by astronomer Gennady Borisov in late August. Researchers say the most recent visitor, however, is observable for much longer, likely staying in our solar system for up to a year. With current orbit calculations, C/2019 Q4 is expected to reach its closest approach to the Sun in December 2019, providing astronomers with time to observe it more closely.

After the initial detection, NASA's Scout system (located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California) automatically flagged the object as possibly interstellar. He then worked with the NASA-sponsored Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to estimate the comet's precise trajectory and determine whether it originated within our solar system or came from elsewhere in the galaxy. Using early observations, calculations of its trajectory revealed a hyperbolic or saddle-like shape, suggesting that it's not in a typical orbit around the Sun. A Ukrainian astronomer, however, has now spotted a new object from outside of the solar system and this time the rock will come closer to Earth. That's the plane in which the Earth and planets orbit the Sun. Comets tend to look fuzzy because they're icy and release dust and particles as they heat up on approach to the sun.

Dubbed "C/2019 Q4", the high-speed body appears to be on a path originating from another star system that will see it fire past Mars in October.

For now, they believe the comet is anywhere between 1.2 and 10 miles in diameter.

"If it is unequivocally interstellar, it'll be fascinating to see how its composition (spectral properties) compare to the variety we see in comets from our own Solar System". "These bound interstellar objects could potentially plant life from another planetary system and in the solar system". Tons of speculation followed as to what the object might be, speculation that of course included aliens. In addition to his myriad Harvard hats (Director of Harvard's Black Hole Initiative and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), he's the chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee, a $100 million initiative that is now listening for signs of aliens.



Other news