Humankind's first glimpse of an interstellar asteroid - `Oumuamua

Oumuamua

A brief visit from a red and extremely elongated interstellar asteroid | Nature

Artistʻs impression of 'Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever detected in our Solar System.

The space rock, also known as 1I / 2017 U1, was first observed on October 19 by Robert Weryk, who used the Pan-STARRS1 telescope that hunts space objects near the Earth that can pose a threat to our planet. And 'Oumuamua is a stunning discovery that not only confirms the existence of these interstellar objects, its unusual shape will inspire debate because how such an elongated asteroid could form is, for now, a mystery.

"This unusually large 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 Dr Meech.

The asteroid also varies dramatically in brightness.

The object will only be in our solar system for a short amount of time but scientists are determined to study it while they can.

The scientists have suggested that the cigar-shaped asteroid has been traveling through the Milky Way, unattached to any other star, for hundreds of millions of years before entering the solar system. "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. It is surrounded by the trails of faint stars that are smeared as the telescopes tracked the moving asteroid. Credit: ESO/K. Meech et al.

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Oumuamua seems to be long and thin, like a cigarette, with a length of about 400 meters and a width of only 40 meters. While missions like Nasa's SPHEREx and Voyager 2 have, and will continue to, shed some light on previously unseen aspects of our universe and interstellar space, we've still got a long road ahead of us before we can begin to explore that space in earnest.

ʻOumuamua is rapidly fading as it heads out of the Solar System and recedes from both the Sun and the Earth, so getting new observations as fast as possible was crucial.

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

Astronomers believe the asteroid to be a dark, reddish colour. The U.S. space agency's planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said they were "looking in the right place at the right time" in capturing the elongated space rock.

Oumuamua was found to be traveling at a speed of about 38.3 kilometers per second as of November 20. As of Monday, the object was about 124 million miles (200 million kilometers) from Earth, positioned between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter but tilted on a trajectory inclined around 20 degrees from the plane of the planets that orbit the sun. It's expected to pass through Jupiter's orbit in May 2018, followed by Saturn's orbit in January 2019.

Although the parallels with science fiction are obvious, the object - designated 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua) - is quite a bit smaller than Rama's fictional 34-mile (55-kilometer) long cylindrical mass and (probably) not an alien starship. From analysis of its motion, scientists calculate that it originated from outside of our solar system.

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ESO informed that its VLT's FORS instrument made very precise and in-depth spectroscopic measurements of Oumuamua's color and brightness.

Astronomers are continuing to observe the unique asteroid.

"We have found nothing in the Solar system that has this form".

The first confirmed object from another star has been found cruising through our solar system. Traveling at high speed and on a hyperbolic trajectory, the object is obviously not from our solar system; it's from interstellar space.

"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 at NASA, said in the release.

"This discovery opens a new window to study the formation of solar systems beyond ours", he estimated.

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