They say that breaking up is hard to do (OK, Neil Sedaka said it) but apparently it’s not so for what was believed to be a hardy comet known as 2I/Borisov which traveled to our solar system all the way from another one and did a flyby of the Sun in December 2019. Polish astronomers tracking the interstellar comet noticed two unexpected bursts of light from 2I/Borisov this month and are afraid it means the little space rock that could may be on its last leg … or tail … and could break up soon. Was it something we said?
“The total brightness increase is thus about 0.7 mag in 5 days between UT 2020 March 4.3 and 9.3. This behavior is strongly indicative of an ongoing nucleus fragmentation.”
Sounding like car mechanics trying to baffle you with BS when what they really mean is that your Buick is in a bad way, astronomers from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and the University of Warsaw wrote in The Astronomer’s Telegram that they’re seeing evidence that 2I/Borisov is disintegrating and may not make it out of the solar system, let alone back home or to another star. They are part of the OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment) project which searches for extrasolar planets, dark matter and galactic anomalies and is considered to be Poland’s greatest contribution to the field of astronomy since Copernicus.
“For Solar System comets, it is known that dynamically new comets are 10 times more likely to disintegrate than short-period comets, presumably due to their pristine state and weaker structural strength.”
According to Science Alert, the breakup isn’t exactly a surprise. 2I/Borisov acts like long-period or dynamically new comets from the Oort cloud, which travel much farther than the short-period comets from the Kuiper belt. Apparently, making those short 200-year orbits around the Sun toughen up these short-term comets, allowing them to do a tight turn around the Sun and live to tell the other Kuiper belt comets about it. Of course, being astronomers, the Polish 2I/Borisov team sees a silver lining in this comet’s cloud of cosmic dust and melting ice.
“As the comet disintegrates, observations of its spectrum will reveal its internal chemistry, including its nucleus. It’s an excellent opportunity to study the comet’s guts, and compare it to our Solar System comets, to see how similar or different they are.”
As with all relationships, there’s always something to learn from the breakup. It’s the comet’s fault, not ours. Even if there wasn’t a breakup, it’s still gone for good, so there’s no sense in being blue or begging for it to stay. There’s always another one coming soon.
Not much of an inspiration for a song, but Neil didn’t have many hits after “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” either.