NASA caught an interstellar comet sweating bullets as it approached the sun

The interstellar visitor, 2I/BorisovNASA
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) caught the instellar comet, 2I/Borisov, shedding a massive amount of water.
  • At its peak, the comet was shedding 30 litres of water per second, which is enough to fill up a bathtub in 10 seconds.
  • The space agency’s analysis shows that nearly 55% of Borisov’s surface was releasing water, much higher than the average rate at which conventional solar system comets melt.
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The interstellar comet 2I/Borisov that visited our corner of the universe was losing water as it approached the Sun — almost as though it was peeing its pants. At its peak, the comet was shedding nearly 30 litres of water per second, enough to fill up a bathtub in 10 seconds.

In its entire journey, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( NASA) estimates that Borisov lost around 230 million litres of water — the equivalent of 92 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

NASA’s Swift Mission Tallied Water From Interstellar Comet BorisovNASA

The space agency’s analysis shows that nearly 55% of Borisov’s surface was releasing water, much higher than the average rate at which conventional solar system comets melt.
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A comet without a home or family
The Borisov comet is an anomaly for scientists. Even though it’s not particularly special, it doesn’t fit into any known definitions either.

On the one hand, it has a lot of properties that make it similar to solar system comets — like its chemical composition. It holds plenty of hydroxyl and cyanogen similar to 25 to 30% of the comets observed in the solar system.


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At the same time, it produced the highest levels of carbon monoxide ever seen from a comet at that distance from the Sun.

"Borisov doesn't fit neatly into any class of solar system comets, but it also doesn't stand out exceptionally from them. There are known comets that share at least one of its properties," said Zexi Xing, who led the research now published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Falling stars or nervous comets
Comets are known for being frozen clumps of gases that are mixed in with dust, which gives them the nickname of ‘dirty snowballs’. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to be shedding material as they heat up. The shedding of material is what gives comets their signature tail. You might know them as ‘falling stars’ on which to cast wishes.

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Interstellar comets however are considered to be uncommon. The only interstellar visitor known to have visited our solar system before Borisov was the Oumuamua comet which zipped through in October 2017.

However, scientists have recently discovered that many interstellar comets could have been hiding in plain sight between Neptune and Jupiter.

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