New observations of first-known interstellar asteroid reveals spaceship-like rock

24 November, 2017, 00:52 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • The asteroid is a mind-boggling 1,300ft long

From the October, the astronomy community has been whispering about what is the Solar System's first confirmed interstellar visitor.

Astronomers recently discovered a bizarre-looking object in our solar system that's unlike anything they've ever seen before. The orbit calculations revealed beyond any doubt that this body did not originate from inside the Solar System, like all other asteroids or comets ever observed, but instead had come from interstellar space.

It's possible 'Oumuamua has been wandering through the Milky Way for millions of years.

"For decades we've theorised that such interstellar objects are out there, and now - for the first time - we have direct evidence they exist", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

One of the things that makes this rock super special is that the rock is the FIRST to be discovered that formed in another solar system and travelled to our solar system. Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) they also found that it rotated once every 7.3 hours. "This change in brightness hints that 'Oumuamua could be more than 10 times longer than it is wide - something which has never been seen in our own Solar System". That's particularly true of its shape, which is much more highly elongated than any of the asteroids scientists have spotted to date.

Scientists monitor the skies for asteroids
GETTY DESTRUCTION Scientists monitor the skies for asteroids which may threaten Earth

"This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape", Meech said in the NASA announcement.

Astronomers hypothesize that the asteroid is dense and rich in metals. They have named it 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua) and believe it could be one of 10,000 others lurking undetected in our cosmic neighbourhood. As of Monday, Oumuamua is travelling about 38.3 kilometres per second relative to the Sun, it added. Its location is approximately 124 million miles (200 million kilometers) from Earth - the distance between Mars and Jupiter - though its outbound path is about 20 degrees above the plane of planets that orbit the Sun.

Over the next 2 years, it will pass by Jupiter and Saturn's orbits.

The other group of astronomers, led by David Jewitt, University of California Los Angeles, estimated how many other interstellar visitors like it there might be in our solar system. The name was chosen by Hawaiian language experts, and it means "messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to us". The authors of the study describing 'Oumuamua write that "immanent upgrades to contemporary asteroid survey instruments and improved data processing techniques are likely to produce more interstellar objects in the upcoming years". "It's a unusual visitor from a faraway star system, shaped like nothing we've ever seen in our own solar system neighborhood". Since asteroids coalesce during the process of planet formation, this object can therefore tell us something about the formation of planets around its unknown parent star.

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