An amateur astronomer has found an interstellar object in the solar system, only the second such discovery ever made in history.
The object, named 2I/Borisov was discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov from MARGO observatory, Crimea, on Aug. 30, according to a statement released by the International Astronomers Union (IAU) on Sept. 24.
The 2I in the name 2I/Borisov refers to its status as the second interstellar object ever discovered. Astronomer Borisov used a self-built 0.65-meter telescope for the discovery. The new object has a condensed coma, or the “fuzzy” part visible through a telescope, and recently a tail has been discovered.
#IAUnews New object from #interstellar space has been found within the Solar System. The object has been given the name #2I/Borisov by the IAU.https://t.co/tki3toW30p
Credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA pic.twitter.com/zmQ3VOVdf9
— Astro Union (@IAU_org) September 24, 2019
“Astronomers are turning their telescopes toward the visitor, which offers a tantalizing glimpse beyond our Solar System and raises some puzzling questions,” said IAU in a statement.
The discovery of 2I/Borisov comes just two years after the discovery of the first interstellar object, 1I/‘Oumuamua.
“This new finding suggests that such objects may be sufficiently numerous to provide a new way of investigating processes in planetary systems beyond our own,” said IAU.
2I/Borisov is expected to be the brightest in the southern sky in Dec. and Jan.
“2I/Borisov will make its closest approach to the Sun (reach its perihelion) on Dec. 7, 2019, when it will be 2 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and also 2 AU from Earth,” explained IAU.
Astronomers are excited as the object is going to be observable continuously for many months and longer than the period for which 1I/‘Oumuamua was visible. They are optimistic about studying it in great detail.
El @GTCtelescope obtiene un espectro del primer cometa interestelar C/2019-Q4 (Borisov) que muestra que el objeto tiene una composición similar a los cometas del Sistema Solar. Más información: https://t.co/4B0sJCmNAO pic.twitter.com/lGyn9p9M0q
— IAC Astrofísica (@IAC_Astrofisica) September 14, 2019
“One of the largest telescopes in the world, the 10.4-meter Gran Telescopio Canarias in the Canary Islands, has already obtained a spectrum of 2I/Borisov and has found it to resemble those of typical cometary nuclei,” said IAU.
The Gran Telescopio Canarias also confirmed the same in a press release. It said that it obtained the first visible spectrum of the interstellar object and a study of the surface composition of 2I/Borisov reveals that it is “not unlike that found in Solar System comets.”
“The spectrum of this object is similar to those of Solar System comets and this indicates that their composition must be similar,” said Gran Telescopio Canarias.
The International Astronomers Union said the presence of 2I/Borisov raises many questions. The scientists would like to know why interstellar objects have not been found before, and at what expected rate they appear in the inner solar system.
“Large telescopic surveys capable of scanning large fractions of the sky on a regular basis may help to answer these questions and more in the near future,” said the IAU.
The Gran Telescopio Canarias said the results of this research “clearly show that comets in other planetary systems can be similar to those of the Solar System.”