New frontier for science as astronomers detect gas molecules in comet from another star

New frontier for science as astronomers detect gas molecules in comet from another star
Interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov imaged by the team using the TRAPPIST-North telescope in Morroco on the night before the William Herschel Telescope Observations. The background streaks are stars that moved across the image as the telescope tracked the comet. Credit: Queen's University Belfast

An international team of astronomers, including Queen's University Belfast researchers, have made a historic discovery, detecting gas molecules in a comet which has tumbled into our solar system from another star.

It is the first time that astronomers have been able to detect this type of material in an .

The discovery marks an important step forward for science as it will now allow scientists to begin deciphering exactly what these objects are made of and how our home compares with others in our galaxy.

"For the first time we are able to accurately measure what an interstellar visitor is made of, and compare it with our own Solar system," said Professor Alan Fitzsimmons of the Astrophysics Research Centre, Queen's University Belfast.

Comet Borisov was discovered by Crimean amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov in August. Observations over the following 12 days showed that it was not orbiting the Sun, but was just passing through the Solar system on its own path around our galaxy.

By 24 September it had been renamed 2I/Borisov, the second interstellar object ever discovered by astronomers. Unlike the first such object discovered two years ago, 1I/'Oumuamua, this object appeared as a faint , with a surrounding atmosphere of dust particles, and a short tail.

Alan Fitzsimmons and colleagues from Europe, the United States and Chile used the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands to detect the gas in the comet but doing so was tricky.

He said: "Our first attempt was on Friday 13 September, but we were unlucky and were thwarted by the brightness of the sky so close to the Sun. But the next attempt was successful."

Astronomers at the observatory pointed the giant telescope at the comet low down in the morning sky between 6am and 7am last Friday. Passing the faint comet light into a spectrograph, this enabled the astronomers to measure how much light the comet was emitting as a function of wavelength, or colour.

Credit: Queen's University Belfast

Professor Fitzsimmons explained: "A spectrum allows us to detect individual types of gas by their spectral fingerprints. We received the data at midday and by 5pm that evening we knew we had successfully detected gas for the first time."

The gas detected was cyanogen, made of a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom bonded together. It is a toxic gas if inhaled, but it is relatively common in comets.

Combining these spectra with filtered images of the comet obtained with the TRAPPIST-North telescope in Morocco, the team also measured the amount of dust being ejected by the comet, and placed limits on the size of the central nucleus.

Dr. Emmanuel Jehin is monitoring the comet using the TRAPPIST-North telescope in Morocco, and provided data crucial for measuring the amount of comet dust emitted by 2I. He said "We are used to seeing comet images, but this one is so special ! Looking at it nearly every morning for two weeks now, I'm fascinated by the fact this object is not like the many others I have been observing, but is truly coming from another star probably very far away."

Professor Karen Meech from the University of Hawai'i had previously imaged the comet, and used the new data to calculate the possible size of the comet.

She reported: "Our preliminary analysis using the amount of gas seen coming off the nucleus suggests that it is likely that much of the surface is active, in contrast to typical short period comets."

The team concluded that the most remarkable thing about the comet is that it appears ordinary in terms of the gas and dust it is emitting. It looks like it was born 4.6 billion years ago with the other comets in our Solar system, yet has come from an—as yet—unidentified star system.

As the comet approaches the Sun it will become brighter and more visible to astronomers. Dr. Oliver Hainaut from the European Southern Observatory said "The next year is going to be extremely exciting, as we will be able to follow 2I's evolution as it zooms through our Solar System. In comparison, we had only a few weeks to study `Oumuamua before it became too faint."

The European Space Agency approved a space mission earlier this year that may visit a future interstellar visitor. Dr. Colin Snodgrass in the team is also Deputy Principal Investigator on the ESA Comet Interceptor, due to be launched in 2028.

The research has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters for scientific peer review, and is available at arxiv.org/abs/1909.12144


Explore further

The visible spectrum of C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), the first confirmed interstellar comet

More information: Detection of CN gas in Interstellar Object 2I/Borisov, arXiv:1909.12144 [astro-ph.EP] arxiv.org/abs/1909.12144
Journal information: Astrophysical Journal Letters

Citation: New frontier for science as astronomers detect gas molecules in comet from another star (2019, September 27) retrieved 20 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-frontier-science-astronomers-gas-molecules.html
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Sep 27, 2019
Methinks that there are going to be a lot of instruments pointed in the direction of this comet as it approaches perihelion on 9 December 19, at 2 AU. It'll be interesting to see if they can get measurements of the major cometary species, such as H20, CO2 and CO. What would be even more interesting is if they can determine the D/H ratio in the water vapour. It could tell us about the conditions of a comet's formation around another star, and allow comparisons with the ratios from solar system comets.

Sep 27, 2019
"The gas detected was cyanogen"

When cyanogen was first detected in the tail of Halley's Comet it prompted the sale of "Comet Pills" and gas masks since the Earth was going to pass through the tail.

Sep 27, 2019
"The gas detected was cyanogen"

When cyanogen was first detected in the tail of Halley's Comet it prompted the sale of "Comet Pills" and gas masks since the Earth was going to pass through the tail.


Comets have a habit of bringing the nutjobs to front and centre! There was that crazy bunch that topped themselves when Hale-Bopp was in our skies, for instance.

Sep 27, 2019
there are old claims of observing comets with vividly bright tails
even multiple tails & at least one comet pin-wheeling across the sky

here's hoping we get to see a reasonably spectacular display of cosmic flatulence

Sep 27, 2019
METHINKS that there are going to be a lot of instruments pointed in the direction of this comet ....blah...blah..blahbitty...blah..
--CastrogiovASSi
Wowww...REALLY?
Thanks for sacrificing those precious few, remaining neurons, on that gem of insightfulness.
Hope it hurt.

Sep 27, 2019
there are old claims of observing comets with vividly bright tails
even multiple tails & at least one comet pin-wheeling across the sky

here's hoping we get to see a reasonably spectacular display of cosmic flatulence


This won't be anything spectacular., I'm afraid. Given the estimated size and outgassing rate (with admittedly wide error bars), plus the perihelion distance (2 AU), you'll probably need a decent 'scope to see it. Rosetta's comet, 67P, appears to be in the same size (~ 4km) and gas production rate range (~ 1000 litres/s H2O). It had perihelion at ~ 1.2 AU, and was not visible to the naked eye.
If you remember the spectacular Hale-Bopp in '97, that had a perihelion at ~ 0.9 AU, and was outgassing ~ 250 000 l/s H2O. That was roughly 10 x what Halley was outgassing in '86.

Sep 27, 2019

Thanks for sacrificing those precious few, remaining neurons, on that gem of insightfulness.
Hope it hurt.


What are you on about, thicko? Got anything sensible or scientific to say, just for a change? Nope, just the usual loudmouthed ignorance that we all expect. I destroyed more brain cells in the 70s and 80s than you ever likely possessed.

Sep 27, 2019
I destroyed more brain cells in the 70s and 80s than....HAWW...HAWW...HEE..

Yeah, I'm sure in typing that, it came as a sparkling revelation, to only you.

Sep 27, 2019
I destroyed more brain cells in the 70s and 80s than....HAWW...HAWW...HEE..

Yeah, I'm sure in typing that, it came as a sparkling revelation, to only you.


Still with the donkey fetish, eh dumbo! Weird person.

Sep 28, 2019
.. All topics considered, it become all legitimate and has without a doubt changed my life.


Indeed. It seems to have rendered you incapable of constructing a comprehensible sentence.

Sep 28, 2019
"The gas detected was cyanogen"

When cyanogen was first detected in the tail of Halley's Comet it prompted the sale of "Comet Pills" and gas masks since the Earth was going to pass through the tail.


Comets have a habit of bringing the nutjobs to front and centre! There was that crazy bunch that topped themselves when Hale-Bopp was in our skies, for instance.
--CastrogiovASSi
People panicked because an astronomer claimed that they could all die.
https://en.wikipe...7s_Comet
So, only an ignorant jackass like you would bray that they are nut jobs.

Sep 28, 2019
"The gas detected was cyanogen"

When cyanogen was first detected in the tail of Halley's Comet it prompted the sale of "Comet Pills" and gas masks since the Earth was going to pass through the tail.


Comets have a habit of bringing the nutjobs to front and centre! There was that crazy bunch that topped themselves when Hale-Bopp was in our skies, for instance.
--CastrogiovASSi
People panicked because an astronomer claimed that they could all die.
https://en.wikipe...7s_Comet
So, only an ignorant jackass like you would bray that they are nut jobs.


That is some weird fixation you have going on with donkeys! You need to see someone about that before it's too late;

https://c7.alamy....NKDY.jpg

Sep 28, 2019
Congratulations CastrogiovASSi, you found your donkey daddy. Now, stop stalking him, after all he abandoned you with good reason. He was devastated he blighted the world with something as stupid as you.

Sep 28, 2019
Congratulations CastrogiovASSi, you found your donkey daddy. Now, stop stalking him, after all he abandoned you with good reason. He was devastated he blighted the world with something as stupid as you.


Lol. A bit rich coming from an uneducated moron such as yourself. Still, I guess you need something to shout about to make yourself feel important. It is often the case with sufferers of Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Ask Benni.

Sep 28, 2019
LMAO.
You do realize, the only ones on this forum who accuse others of suffering from Dunning-Kruger syndrome are the very definition of it...oh wait...of course you can't.

Sep 28, 2019
LMAO.
You do realize, the only ones on this forum who accuse others of suffering from Dunning-Kruger syndrome are the very definition of it...oh wait...of course you can't.


You are getting confused here - I actually understand the science that I comment on. Not perfectly, or to professional levels, but well enough to comment on it. And I don't spend my time criticising the scientists presenting the work that I do comment on. I know my limits. You, and the rest of the crank brigade, however, are bloody clueless about the science, but still think you know better than those scientists. Armed with only a grade school education! That, donkey boy, is D-K syndrome.

Sep 28, 2019
Well answer me this donkey son. You claimed people are nut jobs because they panicked when a scientist told them that a passing comet was going to kill them. Now are you suffering from D-K syndrome or just plain stupidity?

And, you are the only one confusing questioning with criticising.

Sep 28, 2019
Well answer me this donkey son. You claimed people are nut jobs because they panicked when a scientist told them that a passing comet was going to kill them. Now are you suffering from D-K syndrome or just plain stupidity?

And, you are the only one confusing questioning with criticising.


Nope. I said no such thing, bozo. I figured the scientist who told them that was a nutjob. And that the people selling the masks and pills were shysters.
And it is true - every time a comet is in the news, the internet fills up with weirdos claiming all sorts of woo. Not that it is devoid of such loons at other times.

Sep 28, 2019
And, you are the only one confusing questioning with criticising.


And you, and the rest of the crank brigade, do not understand enough science to either question or criticise.

Sep 28, 2019
Well, donkey son, not only are you a jackass, but also a bald faced LIAR.
There is NOTHING in Cusco's post that indicates a scientist told the people that they were going to die.

Sep 28, 2019
Well, donkey son, not only are you a jackass, but also a bald faced LIAR.
There is NOTHING in Cusco's post that indicates a scientist told the people that they were going to die.


And I never said he was, dickhead. Read my post. I said that comets tend to bring out the nutjobs. Your being here proves my point.
And you are still worryingly infatuated with donkeys, you weirdo.

Sep 28, 2019
You are really that stupid aren't you donkey son.
I'm NOT saying anything about Cusco. I'm PROVING that you are a LIAR, because Cusco never mentioned anything about a scientist telling the people that they were going to die. Yet you are now claiming that in your first post it was the scientist who was the nut job. LIAR. Keep digging that hole.

Sep 28, 2019
You are really that stupid aren't you donkey son.
I'm NOT saying anything about Cusco. I'm PROVING that you are a LIAR, because Cusco never mentioned anything about a scientist telling the people that they were going to die. Yet you are now claiming that in your first post it was the scientist who was the nut job. LIAR. Keep digging that hole.


Wrong, thicko. I said;

Comets have a habit of bringing the nutjobs to front and centre! There was that crazy bunch that topped themselves when Hale-Bopp was in our skies, for instance.


Word for word.

Sep 28, 2019
Yes donkey son, and you said it in response to Cusco's comment.

I figured the scientist who told them that was a nutjob

Anyway, donkey son, when and why did you figure the above?
I'm curious, because you are the one braying ...
And I don't spend my time criticising the scientists presenting the work that I do comment on. I know my limits. You, and the rest of the crank brigade, however, are bloody clueless about the science, but still think you know better than those scientists. Armed with only a grade school education! That, donkey boy, is D-K syndrome.


Sep 28, 2019
Hellooo. Paging donkey son.
Looks like the cowardly LIAR is off sulking in his stupidity.

Sep 28, 2019
"The gas detected was cyanogen"

When cyanogen was first detected in the tail of Halley's Comet it prompted the sale of "Comet Pills" and gas masks since the Earth was going to pass through the tail.
Some people made very good money from the ignorant and the nutjobs back then..

Sep 28, 2019
What would be even more interesting is if they can determine the D/H ratio in the water vapour. It could tell us about the conditions of a comet's formation around another star, and allow comparisons with the ratios from solar system comets.
It could also indicate how old the object is, since older materials have higher D/H ratios. However are there spectographs sensitive enough to make out the difference between 20 ppm (i.e. 20 parts of deuterium per 1 million hydrogen parts) and 15 ppm of D/H?
I have no idea but my guess would be that there are not. Even if there are they would probably need to sniff quite a lot of the object's light, isolated from all other light.

Sep 28, 2019
Yes donkey son, and you said it in response to Cusco's comment.

I figured the scientist who told them that was a nutjob

Anyway, donkey son, when and why did you figure the above?


Nope. I did not say that in response to Cusco's comment. I said it in response to yours. And if that 'scientist' was serious, then he was a nutjob. Or, at the very least, out of his depth and subject area.. Given that other scientists appear to have told him as much at the time would seem to back that up. And I do not need D-K to say that, because it was obviously a dumb thing to say, and 120 years later we are not all dead.

Sep 28, 2019
Yet, donkey son, you quoted Cusco's comment, when you brayed like the jackass, you are.
Keep braying, you LYING jackass.

Sep 28, 2019
Yet, donkey son, you quoted Cusco's comment, when you brayed like the jackass, you are.
Keep braying, you LYING jackass.


No I didn't, dumbo. I only referred to him as a 'scientist' in reply to your comment, thicko. And the guy was obviously a bit of a wazzock, wasn't he?

Sep 28, 2019
What would be even more interesting is if they can determine the D/H ratio in the water vapour. It could tell us about the conditions of a comet's formation around another star, and allow comparisons with the ratios from solar system comets.
It could also indicate how old the object is, since older materials have higher D/H ratios. However are there spectographs sensitive enough to make out the difference between 20 ppm (i.e. 20 parts of deuterium per 1 million hydrogen parts) and 15 ppm of D/H?
I have no idea but my guess would be that there are not. Even if there are they would probably need to sniff quite a lot of the object's light, isolated from all other light.


A recent measurement has been made by SOFIA of a comet with a relatively low outgassing rate; 46P/ Wirtanen. Which, incidentally, was the original target of the Rosetta mission;

Terrestrial deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in water in hyperactive comets
Lis, D. C. et al.
https://arxiv.org...04.09175

Sep 28, 2019
jonesdumb says...;
This won't be anything spectacular., I'm afraid. Given the estimated size and outgassing rate (with admittedly wide error bars), plus the perihelion distance (2 AU), you'll probably need a decent 'scope to see it.

Given its speed and that it will be traveling through the heliospheric current sheet at a high angle it could experience short lived activity through the region and into the oppositely charged hemisphere. If some conditions are met, the comet could disintegrate as it crosses the current sheet. Maybe a pair of binoculars would do it.

Sep 28, 2019
Given its speed and that it will be traveling through the heliospheric current sheet at a high angle it could experience short lived activity through the region and into the oppositely charged hemisphere. If some conditions are met, the comet could disintegrate as it crosses the current sheet. Maybe a pair of binoculars would do it.


Lol. And the science predicting and explaining this is...................................... where, exactly? Alongside tall tales of Earth orbiting Saturn, and Venus doing handbrake turns around the solar system?

Sep 28, 2019
deer cantthink
the latest scientific prediction i have read
is that the wild hare of a comet
will be dashing through our Solar System
no closer to the our Sun than the orbit of Venus

then will zip on out of this system
to, once again, run free
gamboling across the interstellar void

yeah cant, you & auntie & sillyegg, need to pool your nickels
& get a fresh set of magical batteries for your ouiija board

get back in touch with your spirit guides, to catch up with the news

oh, & those gas masks are adorable on you three maladroits

wait, what?
no, no!
ahh, come on...
don't spoil my fun watching the three loons wheezing & puffing in those ridiculous masks

yeah, i know the masks are useless against cyanogen emissions
but it's just too delicious watching the three stupes (to stupid to be stooges)

on their hands & knees
waving their arms in the air
blubbering to one deity or another
begging that "yes, they want to go to heaven, just not today!"

Sep 29, 2019
"The team concluded that the most remarkable thing about the comet is that it appears ordinary in terms of the gas and dust it is emitting. "

My understanding is that the Periodic Table is universal along with the ratio of gasses from the Big Bang so I'm confused why they are surprised that an ET comet look like comets from our solar system.

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