Interstellar Comet With 100,000-Mile-Long Tail Is on It's Way Towards Earth—and Scientists Have Captured a Close-up View of It

Astronomers have snapped a close-up image of the first confirmed interstellar comet 2l/Borisov as it speeds through the solar system.

A team from Yale University captured the photo on November 24 using the Low-Resolution Imaging Spectrometer instrument at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

The solid core of the comet only measures about a mile across. However, as 2l/Borisov moves closer to the sun, the star's heat warms the object.

As the temperature rises, icy material on the comet's surface evaporates creating a vast tail of gas and fine dust which extends for around 100,000 miles—around 13 times the diameter of the Earth.

"It's humbling to realize how small Earth is next to this visitor from another solar system," Pieter van Dokkum, one of the Yale team who snapped the picture, said in a statement.

The comet was discovered by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov in August this year. It is only the second confirmed interstellar object that scientists have spotted passing through the solar system, following the visit of the object dubbed "'Oumuamua" in 2017.

Scientists think that 2l/Borisov was formed in another solar system but was somehow ejected into interstellar space, perhaps after a near-collision with a planet.

Now it is travelling through our solar system at a staggering speed of around 110,000 miles per hour—which is about 50 times faster than a bullet fired from a rifle.

"It's traveling so fast it almost doesn't care that the sun is there," David Jewitt, from the University of California, Los Angeles, previously told Newsweek.

comet 2l/Borisov, Earth
Left: A new image of the interstellar comet 2l/Borisov. Right: A composite image of the comet with a photo of the Earth to show scale. Pieter van Dokkum/Cheng-Han Hsieh/Shany Danieli/Gregory Laughlin

"It's past is also very mysterious; we don't know how long it has been drifting among the stars. It could have been out there for a billion years, conceivably more, all the time at temperatures near absolute zero (-273 degrees Centigrade.) And, because the stars are so far apart, this is likely the first time Borisov has been near any star—our sun—since it left it's home."

The comet will make a close approach to the Earth in December—coming within 190 million miles of our planet—before heading back out into interstellar space, never to be seen again.

This means astronomers only have a limited window of time to learn everything they can about the comet before it passes beyond our view completely.

In October, a team of astronomers led by Jewitt captured another photo of 2l/Borisov, which revealed that the properties of the comet appear to be very similar to those of the solar system's building blocks.