First encounter with interstellar object baffles scientists

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

A research has discovered that an interstellar asteroid that was first spotted passing through in mid-October, is a cigar-shaped object which is quite unlike other asteroids seen in our solar system.

We know that asteroids in our solar system come in many shapes and sizes, but we've never seen something so extreme, and astronomers are at a loss as to how 'Oumuamua took this shape, though it appears to be composed of the same materials that are found inside regular asteroids. Although originally classified as a comet, observations from ESO and elsewhere revealed no signs of cometary activity after it passed closest to the Sun in September 2017. Instead, it belonged to interstellar space. So, they can more accurately pin down its location and next destination. It will wander beyond Saturn's orbit in January 2019. There were more surprises to come.

The same holds true for its brightness, which varies by a factor of ten.

Karen Meech explains the significance: "This unusually large variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape". This shade is similar to objects found in the Kuiper belt, in the outer part of our solar system, but its orbit and shape firmly placed him in the category of interstellar origin. As for its reddish color, that could be a result of irradiation from cosmic rays, which the asteroid could have been exposed to over the millions of years it's been traveling through space. It is estimated to be at least 400 metres long.

Moving at 95,000 kilometres per hour (59,030 mph), Oumuamua was at first thought to have travelled from the bright star Vega, 25 light years away in the northern constellation of Lyra.

That has led scientists to speculate that the asteroid is an interstellar wanderer that has stumbled across our solar system.

Astronomers estimate that an interstellar asteroid similar to 'Oumuamua passes through the inner Solar System about once per year, but they are faint and hard to spot so have been missed until now. The name was chosen by the Pan-STARRS team based in Hawaii.

Nuclear engines would help. Some
Nuclear engines would help

Olivier Hainaut of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) said, "We had to act quickly". Spectroscopic measurements show that the object's surface is consistent with comets or organic-rich asteroid surfaces found in our own Solar System. This is the first confirmed object from outside the solar system.

This discovery is monumental to the science community because it is the first detection of a celestial object in our solar system that has originated from a different solar system.

Pronounced Oh-moo-ah-moo-ah, the first character is a Hawaiian 'okina, not an apostrophe. So, the name should sound like H O u mu a mu a.

Data and findings on the interstellar asteroid were published in the November 20 issue of the journal Nature.

"This thing is an oddball", said Karen Meech of the University of Hawaii's Institute for Astronomy who leads an global team studying this interstellar interloper. Following its discovery, astronomers scrambled to acquire as many observations as possible in a short amount of time. 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.

Astronomers at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa's Institute for Astronomy (IfA) made a stunning discovery in October 2017. This image was created by combining multiple images from ESO's Very Large Telescope as well as the Gemini South Telescope.

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