The Pan-STARRS1 telescope in Hawaii discovered on October 19th a mysterious object traveling at high speed through our solar system. Scientists concluded that the object is an asteroid that came from interstellar space.
According to a study published in the journal Nature, it is the first observed object from outside our solar system. Before the object could dash out of sight, astronomers were able to focus multiple telescopes on it for three nights.
“What we found was a rapidly rotating object, at least the size of a football field, that changed in brightness quite dramatically,” noted lead study author, Karen Meech, of the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy.
The object was labeled as an interstellar asteroid, officially designated A/2017 UI by the International Astronomical Union. This organization created the category after the asteroid was discovered.
However, the asteroid has another catchier Hawaiian name: Oumuamua. It was called this way mainly because of the location of the telescope that discovered it. Oumuamua loosely translates to “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past.”
The asteroid is elongated almost like a cigar. Its shape is ten times as long as it is wide, something that has never been seen before.
Thomas Zurbuchen, who is an associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said Oumuamua is proof that interstellar objects exist.
“This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study the formation of solar systems beyond our own.” He said.
Astronomers are of the opinion that comets and asteroids are propelled at high velocities when solar systems form. Due to the orbits of larger planets, they are sling-shot outside the solar system. Researchers based this reasoning on what they’ve seen in our own solar system.
The study revealed that Oumuamua came from the direction of Vega, a star in the Lyra constellation. However, Vega couldn’t have been in the same position three hundred thousand years ago when Oumuamua supposedly broke free from it. This is because the object is traveling at 85.700 miles per hour, which couldn’t cover that distance to our solar system in such short time.
Instead, astronomers believe the object to have been traveling to our galaxy for hundreds of millions of years, without being part of another solar system.
Telescopes like Hubble and Spitzer, are tracking Oumuamua for as long as they can.
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