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From the tallest peak in Hawaii to a high plateau in the Andes, some of the biggest telescopes on Earth will point towards a faint smudge of light over the next few weeks. The same patch of sky will draw the attention of Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea, and many other hobbyists who will sacrifice proper sleep and doze through their day jobs rather than miss this golden opportunity.

What they’re looking for is a rare visitor that is about to make its closest approach to the Sun. After that, they have just months to grab as much information as they can from the object before it disappears forever into the blackness of space.

This chunk of rock and ice started its journey many light years from Earth, millions of years ago. The object got kicked out of its own neighbourhood by a violent gravitational push—maybe from a nearby planet, maybe from a passing star. Since then, it has been adrift in the space between the stars, eventually heading in our direction.

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Category: Science