And 'Oumuamua is a stunning discovery that not only confirms the existence of these interstellar objects, its odd shape will inspire debate because how such an elongated asteroid could form is, for now, a mystery. 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.
Although other interstellar vagabonds have been buzzing our solar system for as long as our sun has been burning, this is the first-time astronomers have been able to confirm the origin of an asteroid from another star.
The asteroid was first detected October 19 by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii, as it scanned the sky to search for near-Earth objects for NASA. This interstellar interloper appears to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object. It is only recently that telescopes to monitor these objects are powerful enough to have a chance to discover. No known asteroid or comet from our solar system varies so widely in brightness, with such a large ratio between length and width.
The asteroid is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated-perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide.
"This object is simply a piece of another solar system that was expelled, and it has been traveling through interstellar space for hundreds of millions of years, or billions of years". The presence of 'Oumuamua suggests that previous estimates of the density of interstellar objects were pessimistically low. It is surrounded by the trails of faint stars that are smeared as the telescopes tracked the moving asteroid. To this end, construction is underway for the European Extremely Large Telescope's (E-ELT), which the ESO explains will "allow us to address numerous most pressing unsolved questions about our Universe" when it begins operations in 2024. The object is marked with a blue circle and appears to be a point source, with no surrounding dust.
Image: ESO/K. Meech et al. "That's a very unusual shape".
Data and findings on the interstellar asteroid were published in the November 20 issue of the journal Nature.
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"Oumuamua" came from VEGA, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra. But its orbit was unlike anything ever seen before, and it was traveling at unusually high speeds: 85,700 miles per hour. 'Oumuamua's trajectory will next take it toward the constellation Pegasus. 'Oumuamua's designation is 1I/2017 U1.
'Oumuamua made its closest approach to Earth on October 14 - before its discovery - at a distance of about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers), or around 60 times the distance between the Earth and the moon. "This serendipitous discovery is bonus science enabled by NASA's efforts to find, track and characterize near-Earth objects that could potentially pose a threat to our planet".
"We are continuing to observe this unique object", said Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory. While missions like Nasa's SPHEREx and Voyager 2 have, and will continue to, shed some light on previously unseen aspects of our universe and interstellar space, we've still got a long road ahead of us before we can begin to explore that space in earnest.
This discovery is considered rare, as astronomers estimate that alien objects probably enter our solar system each year but are small and hard to spot.
But 'Oumuamua's discovery did pose a nomenclature dilemma. The object's full official name is 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua), and can also be correctly referred to as 1I, 1I/2017 U1, and 1I/'Oumuamua.
Safe travels, 'Oumuamua, hope to see you around these parts again someday.
"For decades we've theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now - for the first time - we have direct evidence they exist", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA, said in the release.
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