Comet from another GALAXY spotted heading through the Milky Way
Polish astronomers have characterised the first comet from outside the Solar System, which is making its way through the Milky Way.
The comet, which is called the 2I/Borisov, after Gennady Borisov, who first observed it on 30 August from Crimea, was characterised by a Polish-Dutch team of scientists.
After it was sighted by Borisov, they acted quickly and managed to observe it using the William Herschel Telescope on the Spanish island of La Palma and the Gemini North Telescope in Hawai.
The researchers are convinced that it comes from another galaxy. This makes it a huge discovery: as the first comet from so far away and the second object from intergalactic space observed in the Solar System.
The first was the asteroidal-looking Oumuamua discovered by astronomers in 2017.
“We are 100 percent sure that the comet studied by us was formed in a different planetary system. So we have a piece of matter from another corner of the Galaxy virtually under our noses,” said researcher Piotr Guzik of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.
Guzik and his colleagues from Poland and the Netherlands describe their finding in a new article published on 14 October in the scientific journal “Nature Astronomy”.
“Interstellar comets penetrating through the Solar System had been anticipated for decades,” they explain in the article’s abstract.
In practice, the comet does not look any different from the comets known to researchers; its colour and size are the same.
According to the scientists, images taken using telescopes last month show “an extended comma with a faint broad tail” and a “slightly reddish colour”.
“Based on these early characteristics, and putting its hyperbolic orbit aside, 2I / Borisov appears indistinguishable from the native Solar System comets,” they note in their article.
Although the comet was discovered too late to send a space probe to it to take samples of matter, Guzik says that there are plans to prepare a probe over the next decade that will be ready for other objects that arrive in the Solar System from far away.
The research team is made up of four specialists from Kraków (three from the Jagiellonian University and one from the city’s AGH University of Science and Technology) and two from universities in the Netherlands.