NASA's Hubble telescope spots interstellar visitor

Comet C/2019 Q4

Comet C/2019 Q4

The comet won't come any closer than 190 million miles to us, with the closest approach expected on December 7 - and it's on a course to leave our solar system for good. According to NASA, Hubble's images of the interstellar object known as 2I/Borisov are the sharpest ones to date.

The background: An amateur astronomer from Crimea first discovered 21/Borisov in late August, and subsequent analysis of its trajectory and velocity confirmed it did not originate from the solar system.

NASA said that Hubble Telescope was able to photograph the comet 2I/Borisov on October 12 when the celestial object was at a distance of 260 million miles from Earth. One study indicates there are thousands of such comets in our solar system at any given time, although most are too faint to be detected with current telescopes.

"Though another star system could be quite different from our own, the fact that the comet's properties appear to be very similar to those of the solar system's building blocks is very remarkable", Amaya Moro-Martin of the Space Telescope Science Institute said in a statement released by NASA.

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has taken the best observations yet of 21/Borisov, the first comet we've ever spotted visiting the solar system from interstellar space. It is the second such object after the asteroid 'Oumuamua (identified in 2017). The US space agency also said that these are the sharpest photos clicked of the comet to date. By mid-2020, the comet will speed past Jupiter, about 500 million miles away, and continue on its path back into interstellar space.

The comet is following a hyperbolic path around the Sun, and now is blazing along at an extraordinary speed of 110,000 miles per hour. It could take millions of years before it enters another system. Future Hubble observations of 2I/Borisov are planned through January 2020, with more being proposed.

"It's a riddle why these two are so extraordinary", David Jewitt of the University of California, Los Angeles, who drove the Hubble perception group, said in an announcement.

"Hubble is poised to monitor whatever happens next with its superior sensitivity and resolution", he added.

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