Astronomers may have spotted the first interstellar visitor that could be detected from Earth, originating somewhere else in the Milky Way. The celestial body in question, whose exact nature is still being determined, was seen sprinting through the solar system.
A Foreign Object Has Come Visiting The Solar System
Scientists discovered the mystery object, referred to as A/2017 U1 by astronomers, during the early part of September with the help of the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope — a wide-field survey observatory at the University of Hawaii.
The object was immediately recognized to be an unusual one, but the astronomers could not explain its motion using either a normal solar system comet or asteroid orbit. Later on, with the help of combined data, the researchers could establish that the object was an interstellar visitor.
Astronomer Karen Meech added that researchers have suspected the existence of such objects for long because when planets form, the planetary systems eject a lot of material. However, scientists are surprised because they have never seen interstellar objects pass through the solar system before.
NASA’s Paul Chodas said that astronomers have been waiting for such a moment where they could detect an interstellar object for decades.
“It’s long 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,” he added.
The astronomers were able to detect the object due to its extreme orbit that was coming from constellation Lyra’s direction — placed nearly right above the elliptical plane where asteroids and planets orbit the sun.
Interstellar Visitor A/2017 U1
The object, which measures 400 meters in diameter, crossed under the elliptical plane — just outside the orbit of Mercury — on Sept. 2. Subsequently, the massive gravity of the sun slung the object into a sharp turn under the solar system.
On Oct. 14, the object was at its nearest position to Earth at a distance of around 15 million miles away. The interstellar visitor is traveling quite fast on a trajectory which will see it go out of the solar system, without heading back, according to NASA's Davide Farnocchia.
Scientists hope to use the data collected while tracking A/2017 U1 to confirm the object’s interstellar origins and know more about its composition. NASA said that if the object is indeed established to be the first interstellar object detected from Earth, then the International Astronomical Union will have to set the rules for naming it.