Scientists release stunning picture of first comet from another solar system

Andrew Griffin
Gemini Observatory two-color composite image of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) which is the first interstellar comet ever identified: Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA

Scientists have revealed stunning images of the first comet from another solar system ever seen.

The rainbow images show the stunning details that helped astronomers identify the interstellar visitor as a comet. They helped researchers confirm what kind of object the mysterious rock was – and that it was unlike anything we had ever seen before.

The images show the clear tail streaming out the back of the comet, which is what identifies it as such. The tail is the result of outgassing, caused by material being spewed out the back of the object and propelling it through the universe.

It is the first time any visitor to our solar system has shown such a behaviour. The only other known interstellar tourist was the object known as 'Oumuamua, which did not show any tail – a fact that continues to perplex astronomers to this day.

The picture was nearly missed, researchers said, but was the result of astronomers rushing to take the picture soon after the msterious object was identified.

"This image was possible because of Gemini's ability to rapidly adjust observations and observe objects like this, which have very short windows of visibility," said Andrew Stephens of Gemini Observatory who coordinated the observations. "However, we really had to scramble for this one since we got the final details at 3:00 am and were observing it by 4:45!"

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The newly discovered object has been called C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), after the Russian amateur astronomer who first spotted its unusual orbit. The photo was taken soon after it was first seen, on the night of 9-10 September, by a telescope on Hawaii's Maunakea.

To take the images, researchers took observations in two different colour bands or filters and combined them into a colour image.

For now, it is difficult for researchers to see more of the comet, because it has moved near to the Sun and is therefore difficult to see. But it is expected to swing into a better position in the coming months, as it continues its mysterious journey around the solar system.


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