With the immense distance between star systems in this galaxy of ours, it isn’t often that we get the chance to study interstellar objects – otherworldly bodies that were born in different systems and have made their way to our own – up close and personal. Up until recently, there was only one known interstellar object to visit our solar system, which was a body known as ‘Oumuamua in 2017. Now, it seems that ‘Oumuamua has some company on the list of interstellar objects to visit our solar system.
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has announced the discovery of a new celestial body known as “Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov).” The comet is named in part after the person who discovered it, amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov, who first spotted it on August 30th from the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory.
The Minor Planet Center says that the “hyperbolic elements” in the object’s orbit around the Sun indicates “an interstellar origin,” meaning that Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) is a visitor from outside our solar system.
As the BBC points out, one problem with ‘Oumuamua is that it wasn’t discovered until it had already passed the Sun and was losing visibility. That means scientists didn’t have an ideal amount of time to study it. With Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), though, the circumstances are different, since it was discovered on its approach to our solar system and hasn’t yet reached perihelion – its closest pass by the Sun.
That means scientists should have more time to study the comet before it makes its exit, with the Minor Planet Center noting in its announcement that it should still be observable for some time to come. “Absent an unexpected fading or disintegration, this object should be observable for at least a year,” the center wrote. We’ll see if the study of Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) offers any insight into star systems beyond our own, so stay tuned.