Science

Space rock from another galaxy screams through Solar System

Approaching from above, it was closest to the Sun on September 9. Whatever it is, it's moving: boffins have clocked it at 44 kilometers per second.

Most likely not. But a University of Hawaii astronomer discovered what appears to be the first near-Earth space object to have arrived here from beyond our solar system, the university announced Wednesday. But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma - the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet's core - so the object's name was amended to its current asteroidal designation. It was detected by the scientists last week on 19th October by using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope which is located in Hawaii. Thought to be less than 1,300 feet (400 meters) wide, A/2017 approached from the direction of the constellation Lyra, screaming through space at almost 57,000 miles per hour (92,000 km/h). They would be able to give any information about the object only after collecting and analyzing sufficient data.

The Pan-STARRS1 Observatory on Halealakala, Maui, opens at sunset to begin a night of mapping the sky.

Scientists said A/2017 U1 approached the solar system at great speed from nearly directly "above" the ecliptic - the path the planets, sun and moon follow - avoiding any close encounters with any of our eight planets.

Chodas and other researchers base this preliminary conclusion on A/2017 U1's hyperbolic orbit - the fact that its path is taking the body out of the solar system.

Scientists worldwide are turning their telescopes toward the object, hoping observations of it as it leaves the solar system will shed light on its origin and composition. Rob Weryk contacted Marco Micheli, an IfA graduate who had similar observations.

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"It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back".

"We have been waiting for this day for decades", Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

Astronomers are trying to study A/2017 U1 with a number of different telescopes before the object disappears from view forever. It approached our solar system from an angle perpendicular to the ecliptic, the plane where the planets and the asteroids orbit our sun. On Sept. 2, the small body crossed under the ecliptic just inside of Mercury's orbit and then made its closest approach to the Sun on Sept. 9. The object had made a hairpin turn under our solar system due to the Sun's gravity. Some data-informed that on 14th October the object passed beneath Earth's orbit by around 24 million kilometers. A/2017 U1 has moved out of ecliptic plane and is now moving towards the Constellation Pegasus at a speed of 27 miles (44 Km) per second. The inset shows the object's path through the inner solar system, with the short solid segment showing the small two-week-long portion of the path during which the object can be observed by large telescopes. Some more perspective: we've only ever seen five five objects with an eccentricity value of more, and the best of those was rated 1.05.

Did you ever wonder how NASA spots asteroids that maybe getting too close to Earth for comfort?

Because this is the first object of its type discovered, rules for naming don't exist and will need to be established by the International Astronomical Union, officials said.

"It's always been theorized that such objects exist-asteroids or comets moving between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system-but this is the first such detection", noted CNEOS Manager Paul Chodas via an agency-issued release. "It's always been theorized that such objects exist - asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system - but this is the first such detection". If confirmed that it is an interstellar visitor, it would be the first object of its kind.



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