Published: Tue, November 21, 2017
Hi-Tech | By Grace Becker

Meet ʻOumuamua, the first observed interstellar visitor to our solar system

Meet ʻOumuamua, the first observed interstellar visitor to our solar system

Astronomers know that when our solar system was forming, it effectively spit out comets and asteroids because of the orbits of the largest planets.

As regards how 'Oumuamua became so elongated, Dr Meech explained: "There has been speculation among various team members about this".

"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 for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. Speed was vital as 'Oumuamua was rapidly fading as it headed away from the Sun and past the Earth's orbit, on its way out of the Solar System. More observations are needed, and coming, to confirm its origins.

Originally known as A2017 U1, the odd object from beyond was first discovered by Karen Meech and her team from University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy, using the Pan-STARRS1 survey telescope on Haleakala in Hawai'i.

Possibly 10 times longer than it is wide, its elongated shape is unlike that of any asteroids seen in our solar system.

"We also found that it had a reddish colour, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it", he added. It's dark and reddish color may be due to it's lacking water or ice and having been irradiated by cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years. It is estimated to be at least 400 metres long. While the object appears to come from the direction of the constellation of Lyra, close to the point where the star Vega shines in the sky, the star was in a different position in the sky 300,000 years ago, when the asteroid was near the current position of the star.

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An artist's impression of the first confirmed interstellar asteroid. The asteroid made the trip to our solar system at a clip of around 95,000kmh. He came across the image that was taken as part of the Pan-STARRS survey, which is looking for near-Earth objects.

"We are continuing to observe this unique object, and we hope to more accurately pin down where it came from and where it is going next on its tour of the galaxy", Olivier Hainaut, an astronomer who also contributed to the research, said in the statement. "And now that we have found the first interstellar rock, we are getting ready for the next ones!" It turned out to be a visitor from beyond our solar system, and it's unlike anything astronomers have seen before. The name is Hawaiian and more details are given here. "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". Note that the character before the O is an okina.

"Certainly this is a new type of object".

Researchers shared their latest observations of the asteroid in the journal Nature.

Putting the pieces of these observation together, astronomers concluded that the asteroid is like nothing they've ever seen before. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and by Australia as a strategic partner.

Hence what makes this discovery so significant in the first place.

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