An Alien Comet From Another Star Is Soaring Through Our Solar System
In our solar system, there is just one more inter-centered thing: a cigar-shaped rock called ‘Omumayua’, a Hawaiian word that translates “to a messenger from a distance.”
But ‘Omumamua was discovered in October 2017 when it was already out of the system and it was so useless that scientists could never see it more than a single pixel light. They were not entirely sure what they saw – was it metal, rocky asteroids or ice, dusty comets? And they weren’t sure if the identification was just the lucky flu, never to be repeated or a shelter for what’s to come.
So the researchers were thrilled when, less than two years later, another intercity traveler arrived.
The new comet, named 2I / Borisov (its detector and indicates its position as the second known intracellular object), is expected to be in the reach of binoculars by the fall of 2020. Next month, closest to it, it will double as much as the Earth from the sun.
Although it entered the solar system in the constellation Cassiopeia, scientists still do not know where I 2 / Borisov came from or how long it has flowed through the interstellar space. Given its current speed, it has certainly traveled millions, if not millions of years.
As the object moves closer to the sun, its surface is turned into ice gas. Scientists can test this to determine what a comet is, which produces properties similar to the “national” coma. Already 2I / Borisov has been viewed more than 2 thousand times.
“It’s going to be fun in terms of looking at this subject … for the first time ever, comes from deep clutter,” said Michelle Bannister, an astronomer at Queen’s University Belfast. “Let’s open it and see what we have with this special present from another star”
Exoplanet discoveries have revealed that we live in a crowded universe. But they also made Earthlings aware of how lonely we are. Most planetary systems discovered in recent decades are unfamiliar with floods, and the most common type of exoplanet – a body larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune – is not near our home.
Malena Rice, an astronomer at Yale University, said that when astronomers were just passing their own solar system, it “seemed like the solution to the planet’s formation.” “And then suddenly there are all these weird systems that don’t fit our image.”
Intercellular comets are uniquely useful for facing this puzzle. They are born from the same rotating disc of gas and dust that a planet produces around the planet. But then they get stuck on the ice edges of the solar system, where they can store the elementary elements of the planet’s formation.
In our own solar system, comets have been shown to contain some basic elements of life: water, carbon, and even complex organic compounds. Now, 2i / Borisov could tell us whether the essential molecules of life were within the blocks of creating a world far beyond our own.
This fall, Banister’s colleague Alan Fitzsimmons made the first discovery of any chemical compound emitted by an intercellular comet. By separating the light from 2I / Borisov into its component parts, his team found a signature of cyanogen, a molecule made by a carbon atom, and a nitrogen atom bound together. Gas is common in comets around this sun.
“When I saw it, I shouted in my office … nothing repetitive in a reputable newspaper,” Fitzsimmons recalled.
A few weeks later, astronomer Adam McKay identified oxygen flowing from the comet, an indication that sunlight is flowing water over the surface and breaking the molecule. If confirmed, this will be the first time we detect alien water in our solar system. This is another sign that 2i / Borisov is similar to our known comet.
“Even in these other systems where their architectures are very different, perhaps the underlying physics and chemistry are still the same,” says MacKay, a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Our solar system models suggest that about 90 percent of the remaining material from the planet’s formation was emitted into the intercellular space. The space beyond Neptune still harbors millions of ice bodies, which can slip out of orbit and turn away from the sun in the millennium.
If any of these dispersed fragments are drawn to another system and the stars begin to burn, they will appear as intercellular comets to the one they are monitoring.
“There’s a universality there, which is amazing,” Bannister said. “Our planetary system wanders around the galaxy with these tiny interior woven together with other planetary systems” “
Just an hour before the daybreak, 2i / Borisov will travel across the eastern sky, appearing on the horizon. The long night at Durig is almost over.
Sewanee: Southern University, a 1,004-student liberal arts college where Durig works, does not have the equipment needed to solve the dull night sky. Instead, he must take several hundred images of the same spot, then use a computer program to dim those layers.
The astronomer examined the focus of his 12-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and set it to work, spreading images of places that were suspected to be intercellular comets. She rubs a hand across her eyes, itching from the hours spent under the light red lights used to protect her night vision.
It’s a tiring and often tiring task. Unlike the inventors, the observers who follow them do not put their names on anything. And unlike researchers working on the world’s largest observers, someone like Durig has a real barrier to achieving results published in prestigious journals.
Nevertheless, extraordinary discoveries must be repeatedly confirmed and refined by ordinary people. News can be made by breakthroughs, but knowledge is limited to follow-ups.
Here, tied to a stack of surveillance records and a stack of broken equipment in Svani’s barrier monitoring system, he hopes to one day turn into something usable, “Durig says.” “We’re filling in all the blanks.”
Once his telescope captures an hour’s worth of snapshots, Durig compiles them into 100 stacks that echo the colors on the emergent images, so they appear as black smoke on a white background. A dark dot at the bottom-left is enclosed in the halo of the fuse.
Durig then clicks forward to the next stack and the point is moved by a centimeter. Click another and move it again.
That way he knows he’s looking at the comet, something fast and dusty, something that doesn’t behave like anything else in the sky.
Durig sends his images and record of the comet’s location to the Minor Planet Center – another drop of data contained in a bucket of scientific knowledge.
Continuous observations like this, conducted by the same people every night using the same equipment, will become even more important once the comet is visible in the southern hemisphere, where many of the world’s largest binoculars are located. These need to be pointed with ultimate precision, so astronomers should have a firm handle on the comet’s trajectory and some of the things that can transform it just as finely as a gas exterior.
An accurate orbit is also the key to astronomers’ most ambitious plans for comets.
“If we can get the best possible trajectory, we can look for it as soon as it comes in the right direction,” said Fernochia, a jet propulsion laboratory engineer.
The star of the comet’s parents would be a great feat to identify, billions of miles away, like the astronomy of finding a message in a bottle to the person who sent it millions of years ago. This may not be possible, as most scientists admit.
But it’s probably okay, they say. Because the comet has already revealed so much more. It will tell us something about the birth of the solar system. It will connect our home to a larger galaxy. And now that we’ve seen it, it’s easy to believe that there’s more to be found.
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