A MYSTERIOUS object from deep space is fizzing towards the Solar System – and scientists have no idea what it is.
Dubbed “C/2019 Q4”, the high-speed body appears to be on a path originating from another star system that will see it fire past Mars in October.
That would make it only the second interstellar visitor ever known to have reached the Solar System.
The first, a cigar-shaped object called Oumuamua, took the world by storm when it careened past Earth in 2017.
A pair of Harvard scientists claimed it could be an alien spacecraft, sparking a frantic flurry of scans as the object closed in on the Solar System.
Experts found no signs of alien signals, and Oumuamua whizzed past Earth before its true origin could be determined.
Now researchers at European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Germany say an object once thought to be from the Solar System may actually be an interstellar traveller.
C/2019 Q4 was spotted on August 30 by amateur Ukrainian astronomer Gennady Borisov, and scientists have studied it ever since.
“It’s so exciting, we’re basically looking away from all of our other projects right now,” Dr Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer with the ESO, told Business Insider.
Dr Hainaut was also part of a team that studied Oumuamua during its brief visit.
“The main difference from ‘Oumuamua and this one is that we got it a long, long time in advance, ” he added.
“Now astronomers are much more prepared.”
Early images of C/2019 Q4 suggest it’s followed by a tail of dust.
That’s typically what you see coming out the back of a comet, though scientists say they can’t be sure that’s definitely what the object is.
With more observations of C/2019 Q4, scientists have worked out the shape of its orbit.
If the object is indeed interstellar, scientists should be able to study it until early 2021, when it will grow too dim to see.
That means we’ll have way more time to study it than Oumuamua, which was only visible for a few weeks before it disappeared into deep space, never to be seen again.
Back in January, a Harvard space chief claimed Oumuamua could be an alien spacecraft that broke down on its interstellar journey.
That may explain why we didn’t spot any signals coming out of it – though not all scientists agree.
In July, an international team of scientists concluded that Oumuamua has a “purely natural origin”. They reckon it’s a hunk of rock ejected by a giant gas planet.
Speaking to The Sun, space expert Lembit Opik said the new object shows how easy it is for interstellar objects to reach the solar system.
“Although it is unlikely that ‘Oumuamua is of alien origin, there are still some fascinating possibilities to emerge from its appearance,” said Lembit, Chairman of Parliament for Asgardia, a group attempting to build the first “space nation”.
“Due to the nature that it was travelling from one solar system to another that wasn’t our own, it implies two possible outcomes.
“Firstly, it shows that interstellar travel is possible. Humans and other lifeforms can potentially use phenomena such as ‘Oumuamua to travel on, taking us to unexplored corners of the universe.
“The other likely outcome is that lifeforms can be transported across all reaches of the universe.
“Whether it be bacteria or other such minute forms of life, it potentially means that life originating from one solar system could develop in another, potentially unlocking a mystery regarding the origin of life within the universe.”