At first, it was just another bright, fuzzy speck in the sky. But it may turn out to be something much more exciting: the second known object to hurtle through our solar system after leaving another system.
Astronomers will need a lot more observations before they can be confident giving the comet that title, but early data about the object seems promising. That would make the comet, currently known as Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) after the person who first spotted it, the first traveling successor to the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua, which was discovered in October 2017.
“Based on the available observations, the orbit solution for this object has converged to the hyperbolic elements shown below, which would indicate an interstellar origin,” read the Minor Planet Electronic Circular about the object.
Such a statement is issued on behalf of the International Astronomical Union by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory when observers have registered enough data about an object to begin calculating its path through space.
The vast majority of asteroids and comets that astronomers have tracked to date follow an elliptical orbit: oval or egg-shaped or nearly circular. These objects spend eons looping through the solar system, perhaps kicked around a bit after straying too close to a planet and getting tugged off course. They were made in our solar system and remain trapped here, pacing around the sun’s mass
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