“Based on the available observations, the orbit solution for this object has converged to the hyperbolic elements shown below, which would indicate an interstellar origin. A number of other orbit computers have reached similar conclusions, initially D. Farnocchia (JPL), W. Gray, and D. Tholen (UoH).”
Remember ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever discovered in our solar system? You won’t for long as another one was picked up by multiple observers and reported this week by The Minor Planet Center (MPC) at Harvard University. Unlike ‘Oumuamua, this one is definitely a comet and has been identified earlier enough in its trip through the solar system to be analyzed intensely – possibly revealing where it came from and how astronomers can locate more of them.
“The comet’s current velocity is high, about 93,000 mph [150,000 kph], which is well above the typical velocities of objects orbiting the sun at that distance. The high velocity indicates not only that the object likely originated from outside our solar system, but also that it will leave and head back to interstellar space.”
The BBC reports that object gb00234, now known as Comet C/2019 Q4, was discovered by amateur (but experienced) astronomer Gennady Borisov on August 30th, 2019, at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in Bakhchysarai. When he noticed it, C/2019 Q4 was three astronomical units (450 million km) from the Sun. Since then, other astronomers have seen its tail – confirming C/2019 Q4 is a comet – and measured its eccentricity at 3.2, based on current observations. A perfect circle has an eccentricity of 0, while a closed elliptical orbit ranges from 0 to 1. Anything greater than one indicates an arc-shaped trajectory and is likely an interstellar comet or object making a one-time visit. While not confirmed yet, together these make Comet C/2019 Q4 the first ‘true’ comet to visit use from outside our solar system.
Unless it’s a spaceship.
Good point. Anyone?
Unlike ‘Oumuamua, whose asteroid-or-comet nature still gets debated, this one is definitely a comet. If it is unequivocally interstellar, it’ll be fascinating to see how its composition (spectral properties) compare to the variety we see in comets from our own solar system.
Astrophysicist Karl Battams, from the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, tweeted an end to that comet-asteroid-spaceship-or-what debate which has trailed ‘Oumuamua like a tail (if it had one) since it was discovered hightailing out of here. Comet C/2019 Q4 will have plenty of eyes on it as it will be visible to even low-powered professional telescopes for at least a year, including when it makes its turn around the sun (perihelion) around December 10. However, the MPC leaves an opening for the unusual:
“Absent an unexpected fading or disintegration, [C/2019 Q4] should be observable for at least a year.”
In lieu of seeing windows with aliens waving out of them, an “unexpected disintegration” would be the next coolest thing.
Source: Mysterious Universe
Visiting interstellar comet is caught on camera
Image Credit: Gemini Observatory / NSF / AURA
A two-color composite image of the visiting comet.
Astronomers have revealed that comet 2I/Borisov is remarkably similar to comets from our own solar system.
First observed on August 30th, the comet, which is the second confirmed interstellar visitor to our solar system, was announced last month by the Minor Planet Center (MPC) at Harvard University.
The first, an object known as ‘Oumuamua, was discovered back in 2017.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about 2I/Borisov however is just how unremarkable it actually is.
“This is the first comet known to science that arrived from outside the solar system, and it is completely similar to those we see inside the solar system,” said astronomer Michal Drahus.
Its discovery suggests that there are several nearby solar systems very much like our own and that comets like those we find in our local neighborhood are not uncommon elsewhere in the universe.
Observations using the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma, Spain and the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii have shown that 2I/Borisov has a distinctive and familiar coma (a billowing cloud of gas and dust) as well as a short, fat tail.
Its nucleus is thought to be 2km wide .
“This appears to be a completely unremarkable comet on a very remarkable orbit,” said astronomer Colin Snodgrass from Edinburgh University.
“It’s very interesting that this interstellar comet looks like our own ones.”
“It implies that some of the formation processes we are trying to figure out with detailed observation of comets and asteroids, or space missions like Rosetta, are common between stars.”
Study Reveals Six Galaxies Undergoing Sudden, Dramatic Transitions
Galaxies come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and brightnesses, ranging from humdrum ordinary galaxies to luminous active galaxies. While an ordinary galaxy is visible mainly because of the light from its stars, an active galaxy shines brightest at its center, or nucleus, where a supermassive black hole emits a steady blast of bright light as it voraciously consumes nearby gas and dust.
Sitting somewhere on the spectrum between ordinary and active galaxies is another class, known as low-ionization nuclear emission-line region (LINER) galaxies. While LINERs are relatively common, accounting for roughly one-third of all nearby galaxies, astronomers have fiercely debated the main source of light emission from LINERs. Some argue that weakly active galactic nuclei are responsible, while others maintain that star-forming regions outside the galactic nucleus produce the most light.
A team of astronomers observed six mild-mannered LINER galaxies suddenly and surprisingly transforming into ravenous quasars–home to the brightest of all active galactic nuclei. The team reported their observations, which could help demystify the nature of both LINERs and quasars while answering some burning questions about galactic evolution, in the Astrophysical Journal on September 18, 2019. Based on their analysis, the researchers suggest they have discovered an entirely new type of black hole activity at the centers of these six LINER galaxies.
“For one of the six objects, we first thought we had observed a tidal disruption event, which happens when a star passes too close to a supermassive black hole and gets shredded,” said Sara Frederick, a graduate student in the University of Maryland Department of Astronomy and the lead author of the research paper. “But we later found it was a previously dormant black hole undergoing a transition that astronomers call a ‘changing look,’ resulting in a bright quasar. Observing six of these transitions, all in relatively quiet LINER galaxies, suggests that we’ve identified a totally new class of active galactic nucleus.”
All six of the surprising transitions were observed during the first nine months of the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), an automated sky survey project based at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory near San Diego, California, which began observations in March 2018. UMD is a partner in the ZTF effort, facilitated by the Joint Space-Science Institute (JSI), a partnership between UMD and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Changing look transitions have been documented in other galaxies–most commonly in a class of active galaxies known as Seyfert galaxies. By definition, Seyfert galaxies all have a bright, active galactic nucleus, but Type 1 and Type 2 Seyfert galaxies differ in the amount of light they emit at specific wavelengths. According to Frederick, many astronomers suspect that the difference results from the angle at which astronomers view the galaxies.
Type 1 Seyfert galaxies are thought to face Earth head-on, giving an unobstructed view of their nuclei, while Type 2 Seyfert galaxies are tilted at an oblique angle, such that their nuclei are partially obscured by a donut-shaped ring of dense, dusty gas clouds. Thus, changing look transitions between these two classes present a puzzle for astronomers, since a galaxy’s orientation towards Earth is not expected to change.
Frederick and her colleagues’ new observations may call these assumptions into question.
“We started out trying to understand changing look transformations in Seyfert galaxies. But instead, we found a whole new class of active galactic nucleus capable of transforming a wimpy galaxy to a luminous quasar,” said Suvi Gezari, an associate professor of astronomy at UMD, a co-director of JSI and a co-author of the research paper. “Theory suggests that a quasar should take thousands of years to turn on, but these observations suggest that it can happen very quickly. It tells us that the theory is all wrong. We thought that Seyfert transformation was the major puzzle. But now we have a bigger issue to solve.”
Frederick and her colleagues want to understand how a previously quiet galaxy with a calm nucleus can suddenly transition to a bright beacon of galactic radiation. To learn more, they performed follow-up observations on the objects with the Discovery Channel Telescope, which is operated by the Lowell Observatory in partnership with UMD, Boston University, the University of Toledo and Northern Arizona University. These observations helped to clarify aspects of the transitions, including how the rapidly transforming galactic nuclei interacted with their host galaxies.
“Our findings confirm that LINERs can, in fact, host active supermassive black holes at their centers,” Frederick said. “But these six transitions were so sudden and dramatic, it tells us that there is something altogether different going on in these galaxies. We want to know how such massive amounts of gas and dust can suddenly start falling into a black hole. Because we caught these transitions in the act, it opens up a lot of opportunities to compare what the nuclei looked like before and after the transformation.”
Unlike most quasars, which light up the surrounding clouds of gas and dust far beyond the galactic nucleus, the researchers found that only the gas and dust closest to the nucleus had been turned on. Frederick, Gezari and their collaborators suspect that this activity gradually spreads from the galactic nucleus–and may provide the opportunity to map the development of a newborn quasar.
“It’s surprising that any galaxy can change its look on human time scales. These changes are taking place much more quickly than we can explain with current quasar theory,” Frederick said. “It will take some work to understand what can disrupt a galaxy’s accretion structure and cause these changes on such short order. The forces at play must be very extreme and very dramatic.”
In addition to Frederick and Gezari, UMD-affiliated co-authors of the research paper include Adjunct Associate Professor of Astronomy Bradley Cenko, former Neil Gehrels Prize Postdoctoral Fellow Erin Kara and astronomy graduate student Charlotte Ward.
More information: Sara Frederick et al, A New Class of Changing-look LINERs, The Astrophysical Journal (2019). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ab3a38
Headline Image: © (Left; infrared & visible light imagery): ESA/Hubble, NASA and S. Smartt (Queen’s University Belfast); (Right; artist’s concept): NASA/JPL-Caltech
Giant black hole at centre of Milky Way exploded ‘recently’ – and blast was felt 200,000 light-years away
THE SUPERMASSIVE black hole at the centre of the Milky Way exploded 3.5million years ago, according to astronomers.
This is considered to be ‘astonishingly recent’ in galactic terms and is changing what scientists thought they knew about our galaxy.
Professor Lisa Kewley, who worked on the study, said: “This is a dramatic event that happened a few million years ago in the Milky Way’s history.
“A massive blast of energy and radiation came right out of the galactic centre and into the surrounding material.
“This shows that the centre of the Milky Way is a much more dynamic place than we had previously thought. It is lucky we’re not residing there!”
The cataclysmic blast ripped through our galaxy and was likely felt 200,00 light years away in the Magellanic Stream.
It is considered to be a recent event because when it happened the dinosaurs had already been wiped out for 63million years and human ancestors were already walking on Earth.
This black hole blast phenomenon is known as a Seyfert flare.
The astronomers think it would have created two enormous ‘ionisation cones’ that would have sliced through the Milky Way.
They think it was caused by nuclear activity in the gigantic black hole, known as Sagittarius A.
It is estimated to have lasted for around 300,000 years, which is extremely short in galactic terms.
Co-author Magda Guglielmo from the University of Sydney said: “These results dramatically change our understanding of the Milky Way.
“We always thought about our Galaxy as an inactive galaxy, with a not so bright centre.
“These new results instead open the possibility of a complete reinterpretation of its evolution and nature.
“The flare event that occurred three million years ago was so powerful that it had consequences on the surrounding of our Galaxy.
“We are the witness to the awakening of the sleeping beauty.”
The research was led by by Professor Joss Bland-Hawthorn from Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).
During the study, data was gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope and used to calculate when and how the explosion took place.
It will soon be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
What is a black hole? The key facts
Here’s what you need to know…
What is a black hole?
- A black hole is a region of space where absolutely nothing can escape
- That’s because they have extremely strong gravitational effects, which means once something goes into a black hole, it can’t come back out
- They get their name because even light can’t escape once it’s been sucked in – which is why a black hole is completely dark
What is an event horizon?
- There has to be a point at which you’re so close to a black hole you can’t escape
- Otherwise literally everything in the universe would have been sucked into one
- The point at which you can no longer escape from a black hole’s gravitational pull is called the event horizon
- The event horizon varies between different black holes, depending on their mass and size
What is a singularity?
- The gravitational singularity is the very centre of a black hole
- It’s a one-dimensional point that contains an incredibly large mass in an infinitely small space
- At the singularity, space-time curves infinitely and the gravitational pull is infinitely strong
- Conventional laws of physics stop applying at this point
How are black holes created?
- Most black holes are made when a supergiant star dies
- This happens when stars run out of fuel – like hydrogen – to burn, causing the star to collapse
- When this happens, gravity pulls the centre of the star inwards quickly, and collapses into a tiny ball
- It expands and contracts until one final collapse, causing part of the star to collapse inward thanks to gravity, and the rest of the star to explode outwards
- The remaining central ball is extremely dense, and if it’s especially dense, you get a black hole
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