Nov 21

Take II on an Interstellar Comet — IOTW1947

International Gemini Observatory follows a comet from beyond

Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA

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iotw1947a – Take II on an Interstellar Comet

International Gemini North telescope image of the comet C/2019 Q4 (Comet Borisov) obtained on the night of November 11-12, 2019. The image was captured by the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS) using three filters in optical light. Because the comet’s motion is relatively rapid, the three images were combined by averaging the position of the comet in the images to produce the single color composite shown here.

Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/AURA

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NOIRLab’s International Gemini Observatory continues tracking a visiting comet from beyond our Solar System. Gemini’s second image release of the comet, discovered by Russian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov in August of this year, reveals the evolution of the comet as it approaches its closest approach to our sun in December. The image also features the distant background galaxy (going by the catchy designation: 2dFGRS TGN363Z174) that happened to appear adjacent to the comet when the image was captured on the night of November 11–12 2019.

“The comet is doing what we would expect a comet to do as it approaches the Sun,” according to Meg Schwamb of Queen’s University Belfast who led the observations. “Gas is being vaporized and the gas cloud, or coma, is expanding and being blown away from the Sun. It’s reassuring that comets from beyond our Solar System behave as we would expect!” Schwamb’s team obtained the image as part of a Fast Turnaround program using the Gemini North telescope and a brand new rapid data reduction pipeline called Dragons.

“Dragons allowed us to reduce these data in less than 24 hours which is critical when tracking something which evolves as quickly as a comet,” said Rosemary Pike who is a member of the team from Taiwan’s Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. 

The data are part of a long-term program to observe the visiting comet and understand how this visitor from beyond our Solar System might differ from comets originating within our own planetary system. A previous image of the comet, obtained with the Gemini North telescope was released on September 13th and was one of the first images released of the comet. The previous image is available here.

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