Sci-tech

A unique interstellar asteroid spotted in the solar system

A unique interstellar asteroid spotted in the solar system

Kotulla, along with his colleagues from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), captured some of the first pictures of the interstellar asteroid using the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope in Arizona. The predicted interstellar number density of icy interstellar objects of 2.4×10 au suggested that these should have been detected by surveys, yet hitherto none had been seen.

In truth, an interstellar asteroid might pass the solar system at least once a year. Here we report observations and subsequent analysis of 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua) that demonstrate the extrasolar trajectory of 'Oumuamua. The interstellar object was detected by the PanSTARRS1 telescope on Hawaii, with follow-up observations on five other major telescopes. This indicated that the object was a spindle shape about 400 m (1,300 ft) long that revolves on its axis every 7.3 hours.

They move so fast, it's extremely hard to see or study them, astronomers said.

Last month, a mysterious object (an artist's impression courtesy of ESO can be seen above) flew past our Sun which had astronomers scratching their heads as to what it was and where it was from. Also, one has to realise we don't know where the rotation pole is pointed.

Its discoverers named the massive object "Oumuamua", which translates from Hawaiian to "a messenger from afar arriving first".

"We are continuing to observe this unique object", said Olivier Hainaut, one of the study authors from the European Southern Observatory.

Karen Meech explains the significance: "This unusually large variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape". 'Oumuamua shows that the same could be possible in other solar systems.

First designated a comet, the asteroid exhibited no signs of outgassing as it passed the Sun.

The long and rocky cigar-shaped object has a burnt dark-reddish hue due to millions of years of radiation from cosmic rays.

Because of its speed, if this type of interstellar object were to crash into Earth, it would have a much greater impact and create more energy than an object from our solar system. Once discovered, astronomers can turn to more powerful telescopes to learn more. Scientists" initial calculations suggested that "Oumuamua came from Vega in the Lyra constellation, which seems entirely plausible until you realise that at the speed the asteroid is travelling (a nippy 85,700mph per hour as of yesterday), it would take around 300,000 years to get here - and Lyra wasn't in that position 300,000 years ago.

Astronomers say the object could carry secrets on how other solar systems have formed.

The asteroid is now heading towards Jupiter and is predicted to leave our solar system in 2019, continuing its long journey towards the Pegasus constellation.

Where the asteroid originated from is unclear, it's traveled so far that it could have been unattached to any specific star system for thousands of years. This very brief, nearly missed blush of the first recorded interstellar visitor might give scientists more motivation to be on the lookout for more curious objects, especially now that we have equipment powerful enough to detect them.