NASA has revealed details of the first ever visitor to be witnessed from outside our solar system
The quarter-mile long, cigar-shaped object is unlike anything astronomers have seen before and has been traveling across interstellar space for hundreds of millions of years.
The mysterious reddish object, which is speeding through the solar system at 85,700 miles per hour, has been named Oumuamua.
Its shape is puzzling to astronomers who say it could help unlock the mysteries of how other far-flung solar systems were formed.
The object was first picked up by a telescope in Hawaii traveling under Earth’s orbit on Oct. 19.
It wasn’t behaving like most other objects in space, prompting speculation and later confirmation that it was the first object ever witnessed from outside the solar system.
Now NASA has revealed further details of what the 400-metre long asteroid looks like, including an artists impression.
“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.
Zurbuchen described the discovery as “history-making” in a statement on NASA’s website.
NASA’s findings were published in Nature on Nov. 20, and suggest that the asteroid has been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years.
Combining images from different telescopes and running special filters, astronomers have been able to build up a picture of the object.
It was found to vary in regularly in brightness —indicating an elongated object spinning end over end, according to Karen Meech of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii.
“This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about 10 times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape,” said Meech, according to the NASA statement. “We also found that it had a reddish color, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it.”
NASA believes Oumuamua is dense, comprised of rock and possibly metals, and has no water or ice. Its surface is thought to have been reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years.
Oumuamua is Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first.”
Officially named Interstellar Asteroid 1I/2017 U1, its current location is approximately 124 million miles away.
Oumuamua passed Mars’s orbit around Nov. 1 and will pass Jupiter’s orbit in May 2018. It will travel beyond Saturn’s orbit in January 2019.
“It’s a strange visitor from a faraway star system, shaped like nothing we’ve ever seen in our own solar system neighborhood,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
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