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A second interstellar visitor has graced our neck of the solar system, astronomers confirm


It’s for sure otherworldly, and now astronomers have confirmed that a recent visitor to our neck of the solar system is, in fact, an interstellar wanderer.

It’s the second time that an object has made it here from elsewhere in the galaxy, so it affords astronomers a unique opportunity for study.

The object is named C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), named for its discoverer, Gennady Borisov, the amateur astronomer who first spied it on Aug. 30 at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea, according to NASA.

The previous interstellar visitor, the cigar-shaped Oumuamua, was seen and confirmed in October 2017. In April 2019, a Harvard astronomer posited that it in fact may have had a predecessor that clipped our planet a few years earlier.

“The orbit is now sufficiently well known, and the object is unambiguously interstellar in origin,” the International Astronomical Union said in a statement. “Of the thousands of comets discovered so far, none has an orbit as hyperbolic as that of 2I/Borisov. This conclusion is independently supported by the NASA JPL Solar System Dynamics Group.”

Moreover, “Coming just two years after the discovery of the first interstellar object 1I/‘Oumuamua, this new finding suggests that such objects may be sufficiently numerous to provide a new way of investigating processes in planetary systems beyond our own,” the IAU said.

Scientists say 2I/Borisov will be closest to the sun on Dec. 7, when it will be two astronomical units (AU) from the sun — with one AU being the distance between the center of Earth and the center of the sun — as well as two AU from Earth. It will be at its brightest in the southern sky during December and January.

The object measures anywhere from 1.2 miles to 10 miles in diameter, University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech tells CNN. It’s traveling 20 miles per second, though that will increase to 27 miles per second by the time it reaches its closest approach to the sun on Dec. 28, Sky and Telescope says.

Early images show a pronounced tail, which marks it definitively as a comet, according to Universe Today.

“Since asteroids and comets are believed to be leftover material from the formation of a system, knowing what this comet is composed of will allow astronomers to learn a great deal about where it came from,” Universe Today explains. “This is one of the greatest benefits of interstellar objects, in that they allow us to learn more about distant star systems without actually having to send robotic spacecraft there.”