Possible interstellar object detected

NASA has announced they have detected an object in our Solar System that could be a visitor, possibly an interstellar comet.If this can be confirmed it would be the first proof that objects travel between stars.

I think it’s highly likely there are objects floating around untied to the gravity of one solar system, but given the vastness of Space the may be infrequent visitors – unless there’s a lot of them.

A2017U1

Diagram showing the path of A/2017 U1.
It made its closest approach to the sun on Sept. 9 and is now
zooming away 97,200 mph (156,400 km/h) relative to the sun.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space.com: Visitor from Far, Far Away: Interstellar Object Spotted in Our Solar System

A visitor from interstellar space has likely been spotted in our solar system for the first time ever.

The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.

“We have been waiting for this day for decades,” Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

“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,” Chodas added. “So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it.”

Chodas and other researchers base this preliminary conclusion on A/2017 U1’s hyperbolic orbit — the fact that its path is taking the body out of the solar system. Other hyperbolic objects have been spotted before, but they were nudged onto escape trajectories by gravitational interactions with planets, said Matthew Holman, director of the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A/2017 U1 has had no such close encounters, Holman added. Outgassing could theoretically also push a comet onto a hyperbolic path, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with A/2017 U1, either, he said.

“All other plausible solutions don’t work out,” Holman told Space.com. “So you’re left with, this thing came from elsewhere.”

It’s unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma — the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet’s core — so the object’s name was amended to its current asteroidal designation.

Perhaps it’s an Interstarship Enterprise.

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2 Comments

  1. Gezza

     /  October 29, 2017

    I love it when you post these astronomy/cosmology pieces, PG.

    Keenly interested in matters Space-related. Still can’t get over how NASA can arrange things like interceptions by, orbiting, & even landings, of probes with comets & asteroids gazillions of kilometres away – all based on Newtonian physics.

    Thanks for that. 👍🏼

    Reply
    • In a rare visit to a movie theatre a few months ago I went to watch Hidden Figures. It highlighted race inequality in the US in the 1960s, but the main part of the story was about a group of women who did a lot of the calculations for the lunar missions – manually.

      It was a very good movie.

      Reply

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