The Hawaiian Gemini Observatory has captured a new and revealing image of a mysterious object that is probably the first interstellar comet humans have ever discovered.
A comet called C / 2019 Q4 appears to be moving toward our solar system from an unknown starting point in another star system.
Astronomers pointed a Gemini telescope atop the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii on September 10. Astronomers in Spain also used the William Herschel telescope in La Palma to get a look.
Together, the telescopes revealed a vague fog of dust surrounding the object, as well as a "weak, wide tail" of gas held behind it, according to a Polish research team that analyzed the observations. These are two "canonical signatures" of the comet, the researchers said.
Read more: NASA claims a new comet may be an "interstellar visitor" from another star system ̵
The results are available online at the ArXiv repository but have not yet been subjected to verification. However, they serve as further proof that the comet is indeed of interstellar origin.
"Both the orbital and morphological properties of this body indicate that this is the first definite case of an interstellar comet," the study authors wrote.
Scientists are trying to confirm that C / 2019 Q4 comes from another star system
Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea, first spotted C / 2019 Q4 in the sky on 30 August. Since then, astronomers around the world have been trying to determine whether a comet has an orbit that is elliptical (oval-shaped and around the sun) or hyperbolic (in the shape of a bookmark and with an open-end trajectory).
It seems much more likely that his path is hyperbolic, although more observations are needed to know for sure. In particular, astronomers are trying to determine the eccentricity of C / 2019 Q4 or how extreme its orbit is.
"The error shows that it may still be within the solar system," Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, told Business Insider some time ago. "But this error is diminishing as we get more and more data and the eccentricity seems interstellar."
If the measure of eccentricity is less than 1, Eno said, indicating that the object is from our solar system. If it is larger, it is assumed to be an interstellar object. Researchers behind the Twins' observations said their data showed an eccentricity of at least 3.
This object is different from "Oumaamua
The first ever interstellar object ever discovered, the mysterious cigar in the shape of the Oumuamua cigar, magnified through our solar system in 2017 C / 2019 Q4. In fact, Oumaamua did not look at all like the kind of interstellar object scientists expected to see. This has led some to argue that he may be foreign in origin, though this is highly unlikely.
This new comet seems to be more in line with scientists' expectations of objects from other star systems.
"The discovery of this object indicates that interstellar comets can be common and creates a huge opportunity for a detailed study of the first such object," the study authors wrote.