First Colored Image of Interstellar Comet Captured by Gemini Observatory

The comet is named 'Borisov' after the Ukrainian amateur astronomer, Gennady Borisov, who first spotted it.
Fabienne Lang

The multi-colored image of a comet from beyond our Solar System has been captured for the very first time by the Gemini Observatory.

The Gemini North Observatory, based on the top of Mauna Kea in Hawai'i, caught the moment on the night of September 9th and 10th. 

The comet is named C/2019 Q4, or Borisov Comet, and is a newly discovered interstellar comet. 

What's also interesting for astronomers is that this interstellar comet may share more similarities with comets in our Solar System than was previously known. 


What exactly did the Gemini North Observatory capture?

Gennady Borisov, a Ukrainian amateur astronomer, first saw the comet on 30 August, giving the comet its more colloquial name: the Borisov comet. 

Following Borisov's discovery, the Germini North Observatory also captured an image of the comet with four 60-second exposures. The astronomers in Hawai'i were able to capture the comet in multi-color. 

Displaying a pronounced tail, demonstrating outgassing — meaning the release of gas from within a solid — is what made it clear that this is a comet.

What's exciting is that this is the first time an interstellar comet from beyond our Solar System has shown a tail due to outgassing. Previously, the only other 'visitor' from outside our Solar System was 'Oumuamua in 2017.

'Oumuamua was an elongated asteroid-looking object that did not display any outgassing. As it was traveling quickly away from our Solar System, astronomers did not have the chance to find out what it was made of, but they figured it out that it was not a comet.

The image of the comet had to be quickly snapped, as Andrew Stephens of the Gemini Observatory who coordinated the observations said: "This image was possible because of Gemini’s ability to rapidly adjust observations and observe objects like this, which have very short windows of visibility." 

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Stephens continued, "However, we really had to scramble for this one since we got the final details at 3:00 am and were observing it by 4:45!"

The team in Hawai'i hopes to capture more images of the comet over the next few months, as it travels nearer and nearer to us. 

Currently, the Borisov comet is hard to observe closely as it is near the position of our Sun. The comet's hyperbolic path — which is what determined that it originated outside our Solar System — will be moving it to more favorable viewing points, hopefully allowing astronomers to capture more images.

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