Astronomers are observing the solar system’s second interstellar visitor. The object, called C/2019 Q4, was spotted near the Sun and is expected to give humans information on what other materials from the other side of Milky Way would look like.
Gennady Borisov, described by reports as an amateur astronomer, first saw the object on August 30. He used his own improvised telescope, according to the Minor Planet Center (MPC).
C/2019 Q4 follows the first interstellar visitor, called ‘Oumuamua, that travelled across the solar system in 2017. ‘Oumuamua sparked various speculations, with some experts saying the object was an alien spacecraft.
Initial observations of C/2019 Q4 suggest that the object could be at least 10 km wide or larger. Ongoing efforts are focused on the shape of its orbit and its speed.
Unlike ‘Oumuamua, the new interstellar visitor might be challenging to study because of its closer distance to the Sun, Matthew Holman, director of MPC, told Gizmodo. Astromers also noted initial data on C/2019 Q4 may change since more observations might come in the following months.
The object is expected to remain visible for months or even a year and reach its closest distance to Earth in December, according to MPC.
Studying Interstellar Visitors
The scientific community gave significant attention to ‘Oumuamua, which first appeared as a strange, cigar-like object.
Astronomers initially speculated it was an exterrestrial aircraft because of its unusual movement unlike other comets traveling across the solar system. But a series of observations determined ‘Oumuamua as a comet that came from outside the solar system.
Estimates show that both ‘Oumuamua and C/2019 Q4 will continue traveling across star systems and to unknown parts of the galaxy. Astronomers said it is important to study such interstellar objects fast since they will never return to our solar system.
“Further observations are clearly very desirable,” the MPC said. “Absent an unexpected fading or disintegration, this object should be observable for at least a year.”
Once confirmed as an interstellar object, C/2019 Q4 will get the designation of 2I. ‘Oumuamua was first named C/2017 U1 before receiving the 1I designation, which means the first “interstellar” object.