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2I/Borisov: Naming the Interstellar Visitor

Congratulations to Gennady Borisov, the Crimean amateur who discovered the object now officially designated as 2I/Borisov (with a 0.65-metre telescope he built himself!). That ‘I’ in the designation points to the object’s interstellar origins, and picks up the nomenclature used with the first interstellar object in our system, 1I/‘Oumuamua. We’ve examined thousands of comets over the years but have found none with an orbit as hyperbolic as 2I/Borisov. That means that while the comet’s trajectory is being affected by the Sun, it’s not going to be captured by it.

What’s ahead: 2I/Borisov reaches perihelion on 7 December 2019, at which point it will be 2 astronomical units from the Sun and also 2 AU from Earth. It reaches its brightest levels in the southern sky in December and January and then heads back out toward the interstellar deep. So far, it appears that 2I/Borisov is a few kilometers in diameter, and we’ve also learned — via the Gran Telescopio Canarias (Canary Islands) — that its spectrum resembles typical cometary nuclei. The new interstellar visitor appears to be more straightforward than 1I/‘Oumuamua.

But considering that 1I/‘Oumuamua appeared a scant two years before 2I/Borisov, the inference is clear that such objects may be fairly numerous. Keep in mind that new instrumentation about to come online will expand our catalog, allowing us to investigate exoplanetary systems in ways beyond radial velocity and transits, through the spectra of objects within our own system.

Image: A comet from beyond our Solar System, as imaged by the Gemini Observatory. The image of the newly discovered object, named 2I/Borisov, was obtained on the night of 9–10 September 2019 using the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph on the Gemini North Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea. Credit: Gemini Observatory/NSF/AURA.

There is little doubt about 2I/Borisov’s cometary nature, given that observations have shown a condensed coma and a short tail. The IAU’s decision to give it a designation as an interstellar object follows the computation of its orbit by the IAU Minor Planet Center, with confirmation of the hyperbolic orbit from JPL’s Solar System Dynamics Group. Now we wait to learn how often to expect such objects and how much information we will be able to tease out of them.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Jean Schneider September 24, 2019, 12:14
  • Bruce D. Mayfield September 24, 2019, 13:40

    2I/Borisov does at least fill in a conspicuous by it’s former absence type of suspected space object. We know that our system possesses an Oort cloud of loosely bound frozen leftovers from our system’s formation, and it only stands to reason that other systems have them as well. Well then, here at last we finally find a typical cometary escapee from some other system.

  • John September 24, 2019, 14:17

    It is very awesome to see these (long hypothesised) objects – a mission to one would, in a tiny way, bridge the gap between us and a distant solar system. Hopefully we will keep finding these things fairly regularly…

  • Charley September 24, 2019, 15:17

    “We’ve examined thousands of comets over the years but have found none with an orbit as hyperbolic as 2I/Borisov. …

    It reaches its brightest levels in the southern sky in December and January and then heads back out toward the interstellar deep. ”

    Hmmm … I find that extremely interesting; the fact that it reaches perihelion in early December and is visible (apparently) in the southern skies (I interpret the word southern skies to mean the skies of the southern hemisphere, that could be wrong, however).
    What’s interesting is if it is the skies of the southern hemisphere than that in turn would mean that the apparent trajectory (might) would be tilted to the plane of the ecliptic.

    Can anyone (that means also you , Paul) tell me, is the trajectory of this body not so perpendicular to the plane of the earth’s orbit or not ?

    Finally, an extremely Hardy congratulations to Mr. Gennady Borisov. That’s a considerable feather in one’s hat to have your name placed on a astronomical body, and that interstellar one at that ! He’s going to be remembered in the history books.

    PS. Is it possible that this object could have somehow been ejected into interstellar space from our OWN solar system, and even though it is on a hyperbolic trajectory it somehow was returned to our own solar system ?

  • Michael C. Fidler September 25, 2019, 6:27

    Kruger 60 — a plausible home system of the interstellar comet C/2019 Q4.

    Piotr A. Dybczyński, Małgorzata Królikowska, Rita Wysoczańska
    (Submitted on 24 Sep 2019)

    “An interstellar comet C/2019 Q4 was discovered on August 30 by an amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at MARGOT observatory (Crimea). One of the obvious questions is where does this object come from. Taking an orbit obtained by Nakano and published by MPC in CBET 4670 we numerically integrated the motion of C/2019 Q4, the sun and 647 stars or stellar systems from our list of potential stellar perturbers of cometary motion. As a result we obtained that 1 Myr ago C/2019 Q4 passed double star Kruger 60 at a small distance of 1.74 pc having an extremely small relative velocity of 3.43 km/s. Almost the same results were obtained from our own orbital solutions.”

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1909.10952

    • Bruce D. Mayfield September 25, 2019, 15:10

      From Kruger Industrial Smoothing?

  • Michael C. Fidler September 25, 2019, 10:28

    The Moon as a Fishing Net for Extraterrestrial Life.

    Its surface could, in principle, preserve the remains of organisms or even technology from beyond our solar system.

    By Abraham Loeb on September 25, 2019

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-moon-as-a-fishing-net-for-extraterrestrial-life

    A Real-Time Search for Interstellar Impacts on the Moon.

    Amir Siraj, Abraham Loeb
    (Submitted on 22 Aug 2019)

    “The discovery of `Oumuamua and CNEOS 2014-01-08 allowed for a calibration of the impact rate of interstellar objects. We propose a new telescope in lunar orbit to study in real-time interstellar meteoroid impacts and to serve as a laboratory for hypervelocity collisions. We show that a telescope with diameter D≳2m would be capable of detecting ≳1 interstellar meteoroid impacts (among hundreds of Solar System meteoroid impacts) per year. For each meteoroid, measurements of the reflected sunlight and shadow, as well as the impact’s optical flash and crater, would allow for the determination of the 3D velocity, mass, density, and composition, as well as the radiative efficiency.”

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1908.08543

    Notice the date Aug. 22, 2019, before 2I/Borisov had shown up. Giving a little thought to this, what do we see every night, the falling stars! Most of these micrometeorites that produce this are from comets, defunct comets or asteroids that follow the orbit of the original object in their orbit around the sun. They are like a stream of dust that the earth encounters when the earth’s orbit crosses the orbit of the original comet.

    2I/Borisov is passing thru the solar system near Mars orbit and is leaving a stream of dust behind it as departs the solar system. This dust will be moving on the interstellar orbit of this comet and will change position in our solar system as it is not bound to orbiting around the sun. The stream of interstellar dust can still be collected by a spacecraft long after 2I/Borisov comet has left us and with little expense. Small Cubesats that deploy nets of material that can capture the dust and then return it to earth for study. This negates having to chase down the interstellar intruder since all that needs to be done is to find where the stream of dust is and send the spacecraft thru it… ;-}>

    • Robin Datta September 26, 2019, 1:54

      So could we be on the verge of finding the Fermi Paradox morphing into a multitude mimicking solitude through the unfathomable expanses of space & time?

      • Michael C. Fidler September 26, 2019, 8:58

        Well your close, we are all made of star dust, but what is most interesting is that capture of such dust could tell us how many billion of years ago this comet formed. Like the diamonds that hold so many secrets about the ancient earth, the age of other solar systems would help calibrate our galaxies age.

  • tesh September 25, 2019, 11:52

    Are we seeing a “spike” in these objects (admittedly only 2) or is the tech now good enough to see these on a regular basis. This particular critter was found by an amateur – all be it a well kitted out one but an amateur nonetheless.

    Whichever way you cut it, it begs a couple of question – primarily why are we now seeing these objects?

    Also,
    1. is it the natural frequency?
    2. if the natural frequency, what does it mean for Earth?
    3. is the spike due to an “low” mass interloper perturbing the ort cloud/TNOs?
    4. Can the impact frequencies recorded at various periods in Earth’s history be better explained by factoring this in?

    • ljk September 26, 2019, 15:57

      Never underestimate the value and (telescopic) power of the so-called amateur astronomer, especially these days. Many of the more serious ones should be called professionals in their own right.

      That he found only our second interstellar interloper on his own speaks very well for the future of finding more such objects.

      • tesh September 26, 2019, 17:03

        meant no offence.

        • ljk September 27, 2019, 11:42

          Tesh, I did not take it in that way. I was making a statement in support of astronomers who may not have a Ph.D. but do just as good work in the field and make important contributions.

          In fact, without them, the ones who do have those three little letters would have a much more longer and more difficult time with some of their research. In some cases they might have missed out altogether. Mr. Borisov is the prime new example of this.

  • ljk September 25, 2019, 14:37

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1909.10952

    Kruger 60 — a plausible home system of the interstellar comet C/2019 Q4

    Piotr A. Dybczyński, Małgorzata Królikowska, Rita Wysoczańska

    (Submitted on 24 Sep 2019)

    An interstellar comet C/2019 Q4 was discovered on August 30 by an amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at MARGOT observatory (Crimea).

    One of the obvious questions is where does this object come from.

    Taking an orbit obtained by Nakano and published by MPC in CBET 4670 we numerically integrated the motion of C/2019 Q4, the sun and 647 stars or stellar systems from our list of potential stellar perturbers of cometary motion.

    As a result we obtained that 1 Myr ago C/2019 Q4 passed double star Kruger 60 at a small distance of 1.74 pc having an extremely small relative velocity of 3.43 km/s. Almost the same results were obtained from our own orbital solutions.

    Comments: 3 pages, 1 table, 1 figure, submitted

    Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

    Cite as: arXiv:1909.10952 [astro-ph.EP]
    (or arXiv:1909.10952v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Piotr Dybczyński [view email]

    [v1] Tue, 24 Sep 2019 14:22:52 UTC (28 KB)

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1909.10952.pdf

  • Phil September 25, 2019, 19:22

    So question. Leaving aside that this ‘identification’ is tentative at best, is there anything spectroscopically about the Kruger 60 system that could be used to match with 2I/Borisov’s spectrum? Would that even be expected? They would have come from the same primordial nebula…

    I see the system’s metallicity is near solar.

    P

  • Al Jackson September 26, 2019, 6:41

    I think it should be mentioned that the solar system , we know, has contributed at least 46 interstellar comets to the galaxy*. The actual number is probably millions , in the late period formation of the solar system , Jupiter mostly, scattered comets and ‘asteroids’ out of the Sun’s domain. The galaxy should be all a-thrill with wandering planetary system formation bits and pieces.
    (Hyperbolic comets (objects) in the solar system are not new over the last two centuries Jupiter has been observed giving a gravitational assist to-the-stars of several of these guys.)

    *
    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu//full/1991JBAA..101..119H/0000119.000.html

  • Harry R Ray September 26, 2019, 9:51

    Paul Gilster: Remember your posting of potentially 2,000+ free-floating planets in a galaxy acting as a gravitational lens for a background quasar, ranging in mass from the Moon to Jupiter? WELL: They’re baaaaaaak! Two MORE such galaxies have yielded nearly the EXACT SAME RESULTS! So how does this relate to 2I/Borisov? The authors now consider the possibility that these objects may not be planetary in nature, but instead be PRIMORDIAL BLACK HOLES! If this is the case, the preponderance of these objects may be so great that one entering a solar system from interstellar space may be a COMMON phenomenon instead of a rare one! The disruption of outer Oort Cloud objects into interstellar space may thus be more common than we currently suspect, ultimately inabeling us to detect these objects with current technology at a far greater rate than we previously imagined. ArXiv: 1909.11610 “Confirmation of Planet Mass Objects in Extragalactic Systems.” by Saloni Bhatiani, Xinyu Dai, Eduardo Guerras.

    • Harry R Ray September 26, 2019, 16:11

      David Kipping just tweeted “Fire up the halo drive”.ArXiv:1909.11090 “What if Planet 9 is a Primordial Black Hole?” by James Scholtz, James Unwin.

    • ljk September 27, 2019, 13:31

      Confirmation of Planet-Mass Objects in Extragalactic Systems

      Saloni Bhatiani, Xinyu Dai, Eduardo Guerras (University of Oklahoma)

      (Submitted on 25 Sep 2019)

      https://arxiv.org/abs/1909.11610

    • inverse sine September 30, 2019, 11:44

      While 30 km/sec is too much excess velocity to be explained by perturbation by an object bound to the sun, is it possible that 2I/Borisov is a native solar system comet that was flung at high velocity towards the sun by a close encounter with a massive interstellar interloper passing through the Oort cloud?

    • Harry R Ray October 23, 2019, 16:45

      And now we know where ALL of them are probably located in their host galaxies! Arxiv:1909.06748. Planet Formation around Soper Massive Black Holes in the Active Galactic Nuclei.” by Keichi Wada, Yusuke Tsukamoto, Eichero Kokubo. One very interesting possibility from this is that 2I/Borisov was origionally a VERY SMALL MOON of one of these planets that was EJECTED due to a very close passage of a star similar to the ones Andrea Ghez et al have been tracking around Sag A.

  • ljk September 26, 2019, 10:51

    Get ready for more interstellar objects, Yale astronomers say

    By Jim Shelton

    September 26, 2019

    https://news.yale.edu/2019/09/26/get-ready-more-interstellar-objects-yale-astronomers-say

    Certain humans on this planet may want the rest of us to be quiet when it comes to the galaxy, but it seems the galaxy has no issues with sending physical visitors to us, whether we are truly ready or not.

  • ljk September 30, 2019, 12:04

    ING web news release

    30 September, 2019

    Astronomers Detect Gas Molecules in Comet from Another Star

    An international team of astronomers have made a historic discovery using the William Herschel Telescope (WHT), detecting gas molecules in a comet which has tumbled into our Solar System from another star. It is the first time that astronomers have been able to detect this type of material in an interstellar object.

    The discovery marks an important step forward for science as it will now allow scientists to begin deciphering exactly what these objects are made of and how our home Solar System compares with others in our galaxy.

    “For the first time we are able to accurately measure what an interstellar visitor is made of, and compare it with our own Solar System”, said Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of the Astrophysics Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast.

    Full article here:

    http://www.ing.iac.es/PR/press/borisov.html

  • ljk October 16, 2019, 15:31

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1910.06414

    Exporting Terrestrial Life Out of the Solar System with Gravitational Slingshots of Earthgrazing Bodies

    Amir Siraj, Abraham Loeb

    (Submitted on 14 Oct 2019)

    Exporting terrestrial life out of the Solar System requires a process that both embeds microbes in boulders and ejects those boulders out of the Solar System.

    We explore the possibility that Earthgrazing long-period comets and interstellar objects could export life from Earth by collecting microbes from the atmosphere and receiving a gravitational slingshot effect from the Earth.

    We estimate the total number of exportation events over the lifetime of the Earth to be ∼1−10 for long-period comets and ∼1−50 for interstellar objects.

    If life existed above an altitude of 100 km, then the number is dramatically increased up to ∼10 5 exportation events over Earth’s lifetime.

    Comments: 4 pages, 2 figures; submitted for publication

    Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)

    Cite as: arXiv:1910.06414 [astro-ph.EP]
    (or arXiv:1910.06414v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)

    Submission history

    From: Amir Siraj [view email]

    [v1] Mon, 14 Oct 2019 20:44:11 UTC (152 KB)

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1910.06414.pdf

  • Harry R Ray October 16, 2019, 17:19

    At Last: Perhaps a little CONTROVERSY may surround 2I/Borisov. Hubble Space Telescope News – Photo Release: Hubble Observes New Interstellar Visitor(just up on https://www.portaltotheuniverse.org in the Most Recent News section. MAIN QUOTE: “…another star system could be quite different from our own…Yet its properties are very similar to those of the the Solar System’s building blocks, and this is very remarkable.” MY TAKE: There are only THREE options here! Option number one: 2I/Borisov originated around a solar twin AND took very little time(astronomically speaking)to get here, so as not to have the interstellar medium alter it in ANY WAY! Not impossible, but the odds are, well; ASTRONOMICAL! Option number two: 2I Borisov is a d type comet that originated in the outer Oort cloud and was then accelerated by a primordial black hole situated in the gap between the outer and inner Oort clouds. Again, not impossible, but; in my opinion, even MORE astronomical than option one. Option number three: An ETI Bracewell probe landed on it while it was in the inner Oort cloud a few tens of thousands of years ago and has been CONTINUOUSLY ACCELERATING it. Utterly preposterous, but the beauty of this ridiculous idea is that it is scientifically PROVABLE! After its closest approach to the sun(and perhaps even now)if it pans out that there is non-gravitational acceleration, SLAM DUNK! 2I/Borisov’s size is now well constrained at around 2.4 kilometers in diameter, so there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that outgassing could accelerate it. Finally, what are the odds that the first two interstellar objects detected would be at ABSOLUTELY OPPOSITE ENDS of the Solar System comet similarity spectrum? Food fir thought, eh? I, for one, await further results with bated breath!

  • ljk October 18, 2019, 9:36

    https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap191018.html

    Interstellar Interloper 2I/Borisov

    Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (UCLA) et al.

    Explanation: After the 2017 detection of 1I/’Oumuamua, comet 2I/Borisov has become the second recognized interstellar interloper. Like ‘Oumuamua, Borisov’s measured hyperbolic trajectory and speed as it falls toward the Sun confirm that its origin is from beyond our Solar System. But while detailed observations indicate ‘Oumuamua is a rocky body with differences from known Solar System objects, Borisov is definitely a far wandering comet.

    Taken on October 12, 2019 this Hubble Space Telescope image of Borisov reveals a familiar looking comet-like activity and concentration of dust around around its nucleus. Not resolved in the image, some estimates suggest the nucleus could be between 2 and 16 kilometers in diameter.

    At the time of the Hubble image, comet 2I/Borisov was about 418 million kilometers away. Borisov is still inbound though and will make its closest approach to the Sun on December 7 at a distance of about 300 million kilometers (2 Astronomical units).

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