Newly discovered comet likely “interstellar visitor”, says NASA

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A newly discovered comet appears to have originated from outside the solar system, said NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a release.

The object, designated C/2019 Q4, was discovered on Aug. 30, 2019, by Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea.

The official confirmation that comet C/2019 Q4 is an interstellar comet has not yet been made, but if it is, it would be only the second such object detected.

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The first one, ‘Oumuamua, was observed and confirmed in October 2017.

The new comet is still inbound toward the sun, but it will remain farther than the orbit of Mars and will approach no closer to Earth than about 300 million kilometers, said JPL.

After the initial detections of the comet, Scout system, which is located at JPL in Pasadena, California, automatically flagged the object as possibly being interstellar.

Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at JPL worked with astronomers and the European Space Agency’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center to obtain additional observations, and worked with the NASA-sponsored Minor Planet Center to estimate the comet’s precise trajectory and determine whether it originated within the solar system or came from elsewhere in the galaxy.

According to JPL, the comet is currently 420 million kilometers from the sun and will reach its closest point, or perihelion, on Dec. 8, 2019, at a distance of about 300 million kilometers.

“The comet’s current velocity is high, about 150,000 kph, which is well above the typical velocities of objects orbiting the sun at that distance,” said Farnocchia.

“The high velocity indicates not only that the object likely originated from outside our solar system, but also that it will leave and head back to interstellar space,” he said.

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