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Comet Borisov as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA

Interstellar comets and asteroids might be more common in our solar system than previously expected, new research suggests.

Why it matters: These special objects can give scientists a glimpse into the compositions of other star systems without ever leaving our own, helping astronomers understand just how unique — or mundane — our own star and its planets may be.

Driving the news: The new study — in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society — posits that interstellar objects in the Oort Cloud, the mass of cold objects that orbit the Sun from up to 1 trillion miles away, outnumber those that originate in the solar system.

  • The scientists behind the new work used calculations they built off of observations of the Comet Borisov, the first known interstellar comet discovered in 2019.
  • "Before the detection of the first interstellar comet, we had no idea how many interstellar objects there were in our solar system, but theory on the formation of planetary systems suggests that there should be fewer visitors than permanent residents," one of the authors of the new study Amir Siraj, of the Center for Astrophysics, said in a statement.
  • "Now we’re finding that there could be substantially more visitors."

Yes, but: The new conclusions are based on limited data, so more research is needed before scientists can know for sure what's going on in the Oort Cloud.

  • However, the study does point to the idea that it might be easier to study interstellar objects than initially thought.

What to watch: The Vera Rubin Observatory, expected to come online in 2022, will be able to find plenty of new interstellar objects coming through our solar system in the future.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 24, 2021 - Science

We're entering a new age of asteroid science

Illustration: Trent Joaquin/Axios

Scientists are gathering more data, details and answers about asteroids than ever before.

Why it matters: Asteroids are thought to be key to unlocking exactly how planets and other bodies formed from a roiling mass of gas and dust orbiting the Sun billions of years ago.

Biden says presidency "will be determined" by outcome of spending plans

President Biden walks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after addressing the House Democratic caucus on Thursday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden told the House Democratic caucus Thursday "my presidency will be determined" by the votes he wants in the next week on his $1.75 trillion social safety net expansion and $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.

Driving the news: Biden made the comment, according to a source in the room, as he tried to rally support for the $1.75 trillion package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acted immediately, calling for a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill later in the day.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
32 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China declines to speed emissions cuts in new UN pledge

A view of the skyscrapers in the haze in Shanghai, China, in December 2020. Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Chinese leaders are sticking with a prior target to bring the country's carbon emissions to a peak before 2030, according to documents filed with the United Nations Thursday under the Paris climate agreement.

Why it matters: The new documents come just days ahead of the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow. China is by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, and its emissions path is key to whether the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris agreement can remain within reach.

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