A comet first spotted by a Ukrainian amateur astronomer looks to be just the second known object to visit our cosmic neighborhood from beyond the solar system. What could be an even bigger deal is that this one was discovered as it’s still approaching us.
Before you freak out: No, there doesn’t appear to be any risk that the comet will collide with Earth.
The comet was found by Gennady Borisov of Crimea on Aug. 30, and went by the temporary name GB00234 until very recently. After being watched by several other observatories over the past few weeks, it was given the official name of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) by the Minor Planet Center on Wednesday.
From the start, the orbit of the comet seemed unusual: It appeared to follow a so-called hyperbolic trajectory, which means it doesn’t orbit the sun and probably originates from far beyond our solar system.
It’s very reminiscent of Oumuamua, which appeared to drop in through the roof of our solar system, making a quick pass by the sun and then heading back out to who knows where.
Unfortunately, Oumuamua was discovered after it had already whipped around the sun and was whizzing away from us.
This comet is still inbound, and won’t reach perihelion (its closest pass by the sun) until Dec. 10. Hopefully that will give scientists ample time to study it, a luxury we didn’t have with Oumuamua.
Originally published Sept. 11.
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