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Interstellar comet Borisov gets the close-up glamour shot it deserves

Our visitor from another solar system is taking on an eerie appearance as it warms up from the sun.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
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 Interstellar comet 2l/Borisov appears in this image from Yale. The version on the right is a composite that shows Earth as a way to judge the scale of the comet's long tail.

Pieter van Dokkum, Cheng-Han Hsieh, Shany Danieli, Gregory Laughlin

Interstellar comet 2l/Borisov is only the second known object to visit our solar system from the great wide universe beyond. (Oddball Oumuamua was the first.) It's no wonder we can't stop staring at it. 

Yale astronomers snapped a new close-up image of the comet that gives one of the best looks yet at this cosmic stranger. The image comes from the W.M. Keck Observatory's Low-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer in Hawaii. 

We're hitting prime viewing time for the comet, which will make its closet approach to Earth in December when it zips by at a spacious distance of 190 million miles (300 million kilometers) away. 

Borisov is warming up as it gets closer to our sun. According to Yale, the center of the comet is roughly a mile in width, but its tail stretches out to nearly 100,000 miles (160,000 kilometers). The image shows this central mass as well as a fuzzy halo of gas and dust trailing behind it. The astronomers described it as "ghostly."

"Researchers believe the comet formed in a solar system beyond ours and was ejected into interstellar space as a consequence of a near-collision with a planet in its original solar system," Yale said in a release on Tuesday

Despite its far-flung origin, Borisov behaves like a normal comet. We still have a lot we can learn from it. Said Yale astronomer Gregory Laughlin, "Astronomers are taking advantage of Borisov's visit, using telescopes such as Keck to obtain information about the building blocks of planets in systems other than our own." 

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