Monday, April 20, 2020

Inbox Astronomy: Hubble Probes Alien Comet's Chemical Makeup


Hubble Probes Alien Comet's Chemical Makeup

Release date: Apr 20, 2020 11:00 AM (EDT)

Astronomers have uncovered more than 4,000 planets that orbit stars outside our solar system. But they have few details on the planets' chemical makeup and how they were assembled inside a swirling disk of rock and ice encircling their stars.

The stars are too far away for us ever to visit them and see the planet-making recipe close-up.

Now, a sample from a distant star system has landed in our solar system's back yard. Comet Borisov, the first vagabond comet ever to enter our solar system, offers chemical clues to the composition of an object born around another star. Comets are made of gas, ice, and dust that are part of a planet's building blocks.

Borisov's unusual abundance of carbon monoxide, as gleaned through Hubble ultraviolet spectroscopic observations, is largely unlike comets belonging to our solar system. Researchers say this abundance points to the comet originating from a circumstellar disk around a class of star called a cool red dwarf.

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Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute's Office of Public Outreach.

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