One of the only interstellar visitors ever to discover that penetrates our Solar System, the rogue comet 2l / Borisov, is also one of the most “distinct” such space objects ever. The comet, first seen in 2019 by amateur Ukrainian astronomer Gennady Borisov, probably never flew too close to a star including our sun, which left its composition very similar to what it was when it formed.
Comets, which are space layers made of frozen gas, rock and ice, are usually affected by the heat and radiation they encounter along the way. What is attractive to scientists when studying comets that have not changed much in their lifetime is that they have a similar composition to the gas and dust that were present at the formation of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago. Analyzing orbiting comets can lead to a deeper understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system.
Comet 2I / Borisov is only the second interstellar object ever found in our solar system. The first was 1I / ‘Oumuamua, discovered in 2017.
The new study, based on observations by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESL’s VLT) in Chile, was led by Stefano Bagnulo of the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium in Northern Ireland.
“2I / Borisov could represent the first truly incredible comet ever observed,” Bagnulo said.
The interstellar comet 2I / Borisov conquered with the VLT.Credit: ESO / O. Hainaut
As reported in Nature Communications, his team used a technique called polarimetry, which measures the polarization of light, to study the space body. This helped the 2I / Borisov team compare to other local comets. The properties of the new comet were quite different from those found in the solar system, with the exception of Hale-Bopp, a comet discovered in 1995 that is also considered to be very rare.
The co-author of the study Alberto Cellino of the Astrophysical Observatory of Turin, Italy, commented on this connection, arrived at by analyzing polarization along with the color of the comet:
“The fact that the two comets are strikingly similar suggests that the environment in which 2I / Borisov originated is not so different in composition from the environment in the early solar system.”
In a fascinating nod to how powerful the Earth’s top telescopes have become, another set of ESO researchers published another study in Nature Astronomy on the composition of the comet with data from the Atacama Large Millimeter / Submillimeter Array (ALMA). ). This team, led by astronomer Bin Yang, was able to gather a lot of clues about the makeup of 2I / Borisov from his coma – the envelope of dust around it. Inside the coma, they discovered compact pebbles, grains about one millimeter in size. They could also tell that the relative amounts of carbon monoxide and water in the comet changed significantly as it got closer to the sun.
This indicated to them that the materials in the comet came from different places in the cosmos. Case in the comet’s home star system was probably mixed in a visible pattern related to how far the comet was from its star, the scientists found. This was possibly influenced by the presence of gigantic planets, which generated materials in their system by strong gravity. Astronomers think that this kind of process also took place in the early period of the life of the solar system.
“Imagine how lucky we were that a comet from a system light years away just made a chance at our door by chance,” Yang notes.
In 2029, the European Space Agency plans to launch the Comet Interceptor project, which will allow scientists to study comets that travel through our solar system with even greater precision.
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