Second Interstellar Object Ever Discovered is Traveling at 100 Times the Speed of Sound

Wednesday, 25 September 2019 - 10:47AM
Astronomy
Science News
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 - 10:47AM
Second Interstellar Object Ever Discovered is Traveling at 100 Times the Speed of Sound
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Composite: Unsplash
An amateur astronomer has discovered a comet that is the second-ever interstellar visitor to our solar system, according to CNN.


Gennady Borisov was spending the evening of August 30th at the MARGO observatory in Crimea when he observed what appeared to be a comet using a telescope he custom built.


Soon after, NASA JPL Scout systems picked up on the object and noted it as potentially interstellar before calculating the probability of collision with Earth. According to a press release, 2I/Borisov is currently approaching the Sun but will get no closer than 190 million miles – that's 50 million miles outside Mars' orbit.


The International Astronomical Union has a tradition of naming comets after the person who discovers them, and this one is no different – object 2I/Borisov is officially the second interstellar object ever discovered (the designation "2I" stands for "second interstellar," with its now-famous predecessor being the 1I/'Oumuamua).


Here's what we know about 2I/Borisov so far: although it's difficult to measure the size of comets due to their "coma" (which is the cloud of dust and gas surrounding its nucleus that gives comets their characteristically fuzzy appearance) 2I/Borisov is estimated to span between 1.2 to 10 miles across according to observations lead by Karen Meech at the University of Hawaii.





It's also traveling at an exceptionally high velocity – 93,000 mph, almost one hundred times faster than the speed of sound. According to Davide Farnocchia, a scientist at NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, "The high velocity indicates not only that the object likely originated from outside our solar system, but also that it will leave and head back to interstellar space."


The International Astronomical Union calls 2I/Borisov "unambiguously interstellar," and further states that it has the most hyperbolic orbit of any comet discovered... ever. A hyperbolic orbit is characterized by having more than enough speed and momentum to break free of the Sun's gravitational force. It will be the only time in history that we can observe this specific object.


2I/Borisov will pass through the interior of our solar system on or around October 26, entering on a vertical axis from above and appearing in the sky close to our Sun. Its closest approach will be approximately December 8. "The object will peak in brightness in mid-December and continue to be observable with moderate-size telescopes until April 2020," Farnocchia said. "After that, it will only be observable with larger professional telescopes through October 2020."
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