C/2017 U1 PanSTARRS: the first interstellar comet ever? – 25 Oct. 2017

Earlier today, the Minor Planet Center has announced the discovery of a new comet, C/2017 U1, be the PanSTARRS survey. It is quite faint and we would not talk about it, but it has something very unique. It is the first comet which, so far, likely comes from outside the Solar System. “So far”, as this statement is based on a few tens of observations. Tenagra Observatories, now partner of the Virtual Telescope Project, observed it while it was waiting for confirmation.

C/2017 U1 PanSTARRS - 21 Oct. 2017
C/2017 U1 PanSTARRS – 21 Oct. 2017

The images above were captured with the 32″, “Big Blue” robotic reflector available at Tenagra Observatories, as part of its work covered by the NASA grant #NNX15AE89G . The comet C/2017 U1 is the dot of light in the center of the frame. Images were obtained and measured by Michael Schwartz and Paulo Holvorcem and were published on the discovery circular by the Minor Planet Center.

On the discovery circular, Gareth V. Williams, Associate Director of the Minor Planet center, wrote: “Further observations of this object are very much desired. Unless there are serious problems with much of the astrometry listed below, strongly hyperbolic orbits are the only viable solutions. Although it is probably not too sensible to compute meaningful original and future barycentric orbits, given the very short arc of observations, the orbit below has e ~ 1.2 for both values. If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet”. All this sounds quite exciting.

Its orbit is hyperbolic, so it is not a closed one.

Orbit of comet C/2017 U1 - NASA/JPL
Orbit of comet C/2017 U1 – NASA/JPL

Bill Gray, on the Minor Planet Mailing List (MPML), mentioned that, assuming the available data, this comet should arrive from the Vega direction, but a connection with a given star is still not available.

We suggest you to read this article on Sky and Telescope.

We will try to capture a new image, will keep you posted.

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