CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The solar system may have another foreign guest.
Both NASA and the European Space Agency are reporting that a newly discovered comet zooming toward the sun is likely from another star.
Astronomers said Thursday it’s traveling 93,000 mph (150,000 kph), so fast it likely originated outside our solar system. It’s 260 million miles (420 million kilometers) from the sun and getting closer.
It’s expected to completely sidestep Earth, remaining beyond Mars’ orbit.
Scientists predict the comet will hurtle past the sun in December and keep going until it’s back in interstellar space. It should be visible with professional telescopes well into next year. Its nucleus is estimated between 1.2 miles and 10 miles across (2 kilometers and 16 kilometers).
Officially known as C/2019 Q4, the comet was discovered two weeks ago by an amateur astronomer at an observatory on the Crimean Peninsula. In 2017, a telescope in Hawaii spied our first known interstellar visitor.
With another so soon, these interstellar passers-by could be more common than thought.
“We are now working on getting more observations of this unusual object,” Marco Micheli of ESA’s Near-Earth Object Coordination Center said in a statement. “We need to wait a few days to really pin down its origin with observations that will either prove the current thesis that it is interstellar, or perhaps drastically change our understanding.”
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