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First data suggests Comet Borisov resembles solar comets

The first spectrum obtained from Comet Borisov suggests that it is quite similar to comets in our solar system.

The gas detected was cyanogen, made of a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom bonded together. It is a toxic gas if inhaled, but it is relatively common in comets.

The team concluded that the most remarkable thing about the comet is that it appears ordinary in terms of the gas and dust it is emitting. It looks like it was born 4.6 billion years ago with the other comets in our Solar system, yet has come from an – as yet – unidentified star system.

It is still very early, so drawing any firm conclusions at this point is risky.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Col Beausabre

    I hereby invoke the Mediocrity Principle.

  • mike shupp

    I’m wondering just how far from its starting point our sun/solar system has drifted in the last 4. billion years. My thought is, Sol and presumably a few hundred or a few thousand stars must have coalesced in some cloud of dust and gas and debris — a cluster, call it — at some relatively limited space with a fairly uniform composition. Over time, these young stars have probably moved some distance apart, but it’s not implausible that we have near neighbors with similar distributions of elements and isotopes.

  • To Mike Shupp’s point, I do not understand the desire to invest resources investigating difficult to reach interstellar visitors, when they are almost certainly made of the same stuff as our domestic, and much easier to reach, solar bodies.

  • Blair Ivey: You are making a very dangerous assumption, that other solar systems “are almost certainly made of the same stuff” as our own. We do not know that. Moreover, the odds are that things are not the same, as each star forms in its own unique environment that determines its make-up.

    Even more important, understanding better the range and variety of solar systems is critical to determining whether life is common or rare. Life needs certain components which happen to be abundant on Earth. They might not be so elsewhere. We need to find out. Comet Borisov is providing us a first hint.

  • mike shupp

    Amplifying my remarks, we estimate our sun’s age as 4.6 billion years roughly. Many of the stars about us — e Eridani or Sirius or Procyon for instance — are known to be younger, and some — Alpha Centauri comes to mind — appear to be older. I.e., not all our “neighbors” today came from the same place that Sol did. What I’m unclear about is whether some of our neighboring stars and our sun shared the same birth region, and how many of these solar siblings happen to be in our neck of the galactic woods. Must be some, I think, but I’m just handwaving. I recall reading once Sol has moved about 10,000 LY outward in the galaxy from where it was formed, but I don’t remember where I saw that, and I don’t recall if the hypothesis had evidence behind it or was just some astronomer’s handwaving.

    Enquiring minds wish to know!

  • mike shupp: You should dig up my Sky & Telescope article from March 2012. It was the cover story: “Finding the Sun’s lost nursery.” In it I provide the answers to your questions, as far as we presently know.

  • mike shupp

    Will do and thank you!

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre invoked the Mediocrity Principle. We should keep in mind that the stars are like humans. Each of us is unique, just like everyone else.

  • Scott M.

    The detection of cyanogen reminds me of the panic in 1910 when Halley’s Comet came by Earth. Some thought that the cyanogen in the comet’s tail would poison everyone on earth.

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