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Hawaiian observatory captures closeup of interstellar comet

By
Brooks Hays
The second interstellar comet to be spotted by scientists is making its way toward the sun. Photo by Pieter van Dokkum, Cheng-Han Hsieh, Shany Danieli, Gregory Laughlin/Yale University
The second interstellar comet to be spotted by scientists is making its way toward the sun. Photo by Pieter van Dokkum, Cheng-Han Hsieh, Shany Danieli, Gregory Laughlin/Yale University

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Using the W.M. Keck Observatory's Low-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer, a team of astronomers at Yale University has captured new imagery of the interstellar comet 2l/Borisov -- the first closeup view of the alien object.

In addition to securing a closeup portrait of the comet, Yale scientists Pieter van Dokkum, Cheng-Han Hsieh, Shany Danieli, and Gregory Laughlin created an image juxtaposing the comet with planet Earth.

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While Earth itself is much larger than the comet's body, it's tail would dwarf Earth if the two objects were placed side by side.

"It's humbling to realize how small Earth is next to this visitor from another solar system," van Dokkum said in a news release.

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The interstellar comet was first spotted by Gennady Borisov, an astronomer at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea, late this summer. News of the comet's discovery began to spread in early fall, and astronomers began closely monitoring its path through the solar system.

"The best chance to see it is during December when it makes its closest approach to the sun on December 8 and the Earth on December 28," NASA reported earlier this year. "The comet will then be passing through the constellations Crater and Hydra. At mid-northern latitudes, these are fairly low and to the south about two hours before sunrise. The comet will be much too dim to see without a telescope."

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As the comet gets closer to the sun, it is quickly evaporating, producing a bigger and bigger tail.

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"Astronomers are taking advantage of Borisov's visit, using telescopes such as Keck to obtain information about the building blocks of planets in systems other than our own," Laughlin said.

Borisov is the second interstellar visitor -- after 'Oumuamua -- to be spotted by astronomers. Scientists estimate hundreds of thousands of interstellar visitors are passing through the solar system at any given moment, but most of them are too small and too far away to ever be spotted by telescopes.

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