A mysterious interstellar object is approaching our solar system
A mysterious object from deep space is fizzing towards the solar system — and scientists have no idea what it is.
Dubbed “C/2019 Q4,” the high-speed body appears to be on a path originating from another star system that will see it fire past Mars in October.
That would make it only the second interstellar visitor is ever known to have reached the solar system.
The first, a cigar-shaped object called Oumuamua, took the world by storm when it careened past Earth in 2017.
A pair of Harvard scientists claimed it could be an alien spacecraft, sparking a frantic flurry of scans as the object closed in on the solar system.
Experts found no signs of alien signals and Oumuamua whizzed past Earth before its true origin could be determined.
Now researchers at European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Germany say an object once thought to be from the solar system may actually be an interstellar traveler.
C/2019 Q4 was spotted on August 30 by amateur Ukrainian astronomer Gennady Borisov and scientists have studied it ever since.
“It’s so exciting, we’re basically looking away from all of our other projects right now,” Dr. Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the ESO, told Business Insider.
Dr Hainaut was also part of a team that studied Oumuamua during its brief visit.
“The main difference from ‘Oumuamua and this one is that we got it a long, long time in advance, ” he added.
“Now astronomers are much more prepared.”
Early images of C/2019 Q4 suggest it’s followed by a tail of dust.
That’s typically what you see coming out the back of a comet, though scientists say they can’t be sure that’s definitely what the object is.
With more observations of C/2019 Q4, scientists have worked out the shape of its orbit.
If the object is indeed interstellar, scientists should be able to study it until early 2021, when it will grow too dim to see.
That means we’ll have way more time to study it than Oumuamua, which was only visible for a few weeks before it disappeared into deep space, never to be seen again.
Back in January, a Harvard space chief claimed Oumuamua could be an alien spacecraft that broke down on its interstellar journey.
That may explain why we didn’t spot any signals coming out of it – though not all scientists agree.
In July, an international team of scientists concluded that Oumuamua has a “purely natural origin”. They reckon it’s a hunk of rock ejected by a giant gas planet.
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