For the first time in history, the first comet believed to have originated from a star system beyond our own has been photographed by astronomers using the Gemini Observatory.
The image of the newly discovered object, called C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), was obtained at night from September 9 to 10 using the Gemini multi-object spectrograph at the North Gemini Telescope in Maunakea, Hawaii.
“This image was possible due to Gemini’s ability to quickly adjust observations and observe objects like this, which have very short visibility windows,” Andrew Stephens of the Gemini Observatory said in a statement, who coordinated the observations of the second interstellar visitor spotted in our solar system.
Before Borisov, all eyes turned towards ‘Oumuamua, one of the most peculiar and mysterious objects ever discovered in our solar system. ‘Oumuamua exhibited the characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid, or as some experts say, possibly neither. In other words, there still isn’t a general consensus among astronomers as to what exactly ‘Oumuamua is. Some researchers have even proposed that the mysterious interstellar visitor may be a piece of broken-down alien tech.
The image of C / 2019 Q4 (Borisov) shows a very pronounced tail, indicative of degassing, which is what defines a cometary object. This is the first time that an interstellar visitor to our Solar System clearly shows a tail due to degassing. The only other interstellar visitor studied in our Solar System was’ Oumuamua, which was a very elongated object resembling an asteroid, with no obvious evidence of degassing. In our solar system astronomers have spotted 6,300 known comets. There are millions of asteroids. and millions of asteroids.
The Gemini observations used for this image were obtained in two color bands (filters) and combined to produce a color image. The red and blue images correspond to background stars that are distorted by the comet’s movement.
C / 2019 Q4 Borisov is currently near the apparent position of the Sun in our sky and, consequently, is difficult to observe due to the glow of twilight.
The hyperbolic trajectory of the comet, which is evidence of its origin beyond our Solar System, will lead to more favorable observation conditions in the coming months.
C / 2019 Q4 was discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov on August 30, 2019.
In addition to the very first images of the interstellar visitor, the first scientific studies of the objects are coming in. Two separate groups of astronomers have been analyzing the interstellar comet so far.
One of them is looking at the comet’s color, while a different team is studying the object’s spectrum, hoping to getter a better look at the composition of the strange cosmic body.
Although the papers are yet to be peer-reviewed, experts argue that a plethora of new scientific data is coming to light.