A team of astronomers from Yale University photographed Comet Borisov on Sunday, November 24, using Hawaii’s Keck Observatory. The eerie black and white image reveals the interstellar object’s tail to be nearly 100,000 miles (160,000km) long.
This is approximately 14 times Earth’s diameter and more than 40 percent the distance from Earth to the Moon.
stronomers are taking advantage of Borisov’s visit, using telescopes such as Keck to obtain information about the building blocks of planets in systems other than our own
Professor Greg Laughlin
Yale astronomy Professor Pieter van Dokkum said in a statement: “It’s humbling to realise how small Earth is next to this visitor from another solar system.”
But Comet Borisov’s tail dwarfs its body, with researchers believing its core is approximately just one mile (1.6km) wide.
The comet was first spotted in late August by amateur astronomer Gennadiy Borisov.
Analysis of the comet’s speed and trajectory revealed Borisov arrived into the Solar System from far away, making it the only the second known interstellar object after the mysterious body ‘Oumuamua, first spotted in October 2017.
Astronomers didn’t see ‘Oumuamua until it had already zoomed past Earth on its way toward the outer Solar System, limiting the opportunity for detailed study.
But Comet Borisov is a more obliging target because it is still inward bound.
The comet’s closest approach to the Sun will come on December 8 and closest approach to Earth following about three weeks after that.
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Yale astronomy professor Greg Laughlin said: “Astronomers are taking advantage of Borisov’s visit, using telescopes such as Keck to obtain information about the building blocks of planets in systems other than our own.
Amateur astronomers will be able to observe Borisov over the coming weeks as well, although powerful optical equipment will be required.
The Sky & Telescope site wrote: ”Based on observing many comets over decades, we probably can rule out seeing the object in anything smaller than an 8-inch telescope under pristine skies.”
Astronomers believe ’Oumuamua and Borisov are likely only the first of many interstellar visitors to be recognised.
There are probably many more of these visitors cruising through our Solar System undetected.
But scientists should start getting a decent idea of their population soon, when some big new observatories — such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which will be a very efficient small-body hunter — come online.
The first known interstellar object to visit our solar system, ‘Oumuamua, was discovered by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighbourhood.
While originally classified as a comet, observations revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun at a blistering speed of 196,000mph (315,431kmh).
Oumuamua was briefly classified as an asteroid until new measurements found it was accelerating slightly, a sign it behaves more like a comet.
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