For the first time in human history, an asteroid that originated from a different solar system has passed earth close enough for us to witness it.
Scientists are gathering information to better understand the mysterious entity before it disappears from vision. Astronomers believe the object to be on a ‘hyperbolic trajectory’ suggesting that the object broke free from a star outside our own solar system.
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Centre’s first observations hint at interstellar activity:
“If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet."
The first sighting was from the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala. Rob Weryk was the first astronomer to spot the object, which he compared to images taken from the European Space Agency’s telescope on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Comparing images, he determined the object was travelling on a trajectory that originated from beyond our solar system.
The space rock, or A/2017 U1, is estimated to come from the direction of the Lyra constellation. The space rock is travelling at a speed of 25.5 kilometres per second and is roughly 400 metres wide.
The sighting of this space rock is the first of its kind, although Scientists have always suspected the existence of such interstellar objects, as large amounts of material are launched into space when planets form. Manager of NASA’s Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies, Paul Chodas says:
“We have been waiting for this for decades. It's long been theorised that such objects exist – asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system, “ Paul Chodas explained in an interview with UK newspaper The Independant.
– but this is the first such detection. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help confirm it."
As scientists study the object more, new information on will emerge about its origin and potentially what it is made up of.
David farnocchia from CNEOS’s Jet propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California believes the asteroid has the most extreme orbit he’s ever seen.
“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." He told the Independent.
Lead Image: NASA