Solar System's First Interstellar Visitor Is A Cigar-Shaped Asteroid

EnlargeEuropean Southern Observatory  M. Kornmesser

New data revealed that the interstellar asteroid has a highly-elongated shape and it is 10 times as long as it is wide.

On 19 October, an interstellar asteroid was detected by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. The name, which was chosen in consultation with UH Hilo Hawaiian language experts Kaʻiu Kimura and Larry Kimura, reflects the way this object is like a scout or messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to us (ʻou means "reach out for" and mua, with the second mua placing emphasis, means "first, in advance of"). "What we found was a rapidly rotating object, at least the size of a football field, that changed in brightness quite dramatically".

The most elongated objects seen to date are no more than three times longer than they are wide, the scientists said. It's incredibly dense, likely made up of a rocky or high metal content, though it has no water or ice. "We don't know", said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

This artist's impression shows the first detected interstellar asteroid ʻOumuamua. Credit: ESO/K. Meech et al. It is thought to be a one-quarter mile long and highly elongated.

[1] The Pan-STARRS team's proposal to name the interstellar objet was accepted by the International Astronomical Union, which is responsible for granting official names to bodies in the Solar System and beyond.

Observations reveal that the mysterious object is indeed an asteroid and rather oddly shaped.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far.

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'Oumuamua's dark reddish color is similar to the hue of many objects in the Kuiper Belt, a zone of dwarf planets and asteroid-like worlds orbiting the sun beyond Neptune. NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said, "We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment".

Preliminary orbital calculations suggested that the object had come from the approximate direction of the bright star Vega, in the northern constellation of Lyra. As of November 20, it's now traveling at 38.3 kilometers per second (85,700 mph). Its last known location was approximately 200 million kilometers from Earth. He passed on Mars on November 1, will pass by Jupiter in May next year and will visit Saturn in January 2019. The correct forms for referring to this object are now: 1I, 1I/2017 U1, 1I/'Oumuamua and 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua). The IAU also created a new class of objects for interstellar asteroids, with this object being the first to receive this designation.

What is 'Oumuamua made of?

"This thing is very unusual", said Meech.

According to Nasa, both the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes are still tracking'Oumuamua. "And we hope to more accurately pin down where it came from and where it is going next on its tour of the galaxy".

The irregularity of its trajectory confirms the object did not originate from our solar system, as we did not observe any gravitational encounters which would have placed it on its hyperbolic path.

But 'Oumuamua's discovery did pose a nomenclature dilemma.

"For decades we've theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now - for the first time - we have direct evidence they exist", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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