Professor Fitzsimmons explained: "A spectrum allows us to detect individual types of gas by their spectral fingerprints. We received the data at midday and by 5pm that evening we knew we had successfully detected gas for the first time."
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.
Comet Borisov has been extensively followed up at the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes since the 10th of September using the instruments ACAM and ISIS on the WHT, and IDS on the Isaac Newton Telescope.
Professor Alan Fitzsimmons is available for interview. Interview bids to Emma Gallagher at Queen's University Communications Office T; +44 (0)28 9097 3087 E; email@example.com.
Alan Fitzsimmons, Olivier Hainaut, Karen Meech, Emmanuel Jehin, Youssef Moulane, Cyrielle Opitom, Bin Yang, Jacqueline V. Keane, Jan T. Kleyna, Marco Micheli, Colin Snodgrass, 2019, "Detection of CN gas in Interstellar Object 2I/Borisov", arXiv:1909.12144 [ NASA ADS ].
"New frontier for science as astronomers detect gas molecules in comet from another star", QUB press release, 30th September, 2019.
Piotr Guzik, Michał Drahus, Krzysztof Rusek, Wacław Waniak, Giacomo Cannizzaro, Inés Pastor-Marazuela, 2019, "Interstellar comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov)", arXiv:1909.05851 [ NASA ADS ].