Astronomers Race to Study a Mystery Object From Outside Our Solar System

For the first time that we see, an interstellar visitor has dived through our solar system. The little space rock, temporarily called A/2017 U1, is about a one-fourth of a mile long and astronomers across the world are racing to survey it before it disappears just as rapidly as it appeared.

“We’ve never seen everything like this before,” said Rob Weryk, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

On Oct. 19, Dr. Weryk was analyzing pictures captured by the university’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on the island of Maui when he appears across the object. At first, he thought it was a kind of space rock known as a near earth object, but he performed its motion did not make sensibility. It was much quicker than any asteroid or comet he had seen before. He rapidly performed that it was not of this solar system.

“It’s moving so fast that the Sun can’t abduction it into an orbit,” Dr. Weryk said.

After approaching a friend at the European Space Agency to consider the find, he agreed with it to the Minor Planet Center, which tracks objects in the solar system, to proportion with other astronomers.

“I was not expecting to look everything like this during my career, even though we knew it was probable and that these objects endure,” said Davide Farnocchia, a navigational engineer with NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers had envisioned such an existence, but this is the first time that it has been documented.

For the past few days, Dr. Farnocchia has been calculating the peculiar object’s path.

“It was evident that the object has a hyperbolic orbit,” he said, meaning that its curve is open-ended rather than elliptical like the objects in our solar system. That displays that it appeared from outside the solar system and will allowance the solar system.

The object appeared closest to the Sun on Sept. 9, at a distance of about 23 million miles. With an increase from the star’s gravity, it surged by at about 55 miles per second with respect to the Sun, Dr. Farnocchia said. Then on Oct. 14, the object appeared within about 15 million miles of Earth, zipping by at about 37 miles per second, with respect to the Earth. That’s more than three times as much velocity as the departure trajectory for the New Horizons spacecraft, which finished a flyby of Pluto in 2015, he said.

Now it’s moving away at about 25 miles per second, he said, and will exit the solar system at about 16 miles per second. That is quicker than the present velocity of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which became the first spacecraft from Earth to enter interstellar space in August 2012.

Scientists around the world are watching its journey, believing to glean as much data as they can before it gets too far away.

“We are just rushing right now to protected big telescope time, ready our investigation and download the data,” said Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. Because the substance came from outside our solar system, it may be the build-up of fully different material than the asteroids and comets that we have studied. She and other astronomers think that in the next few weeks they will have more acumen into the balance and size of A/2017 U1, and in time, where correctly it appeared from.

Dr. Meech noted that scientists did not have much ominous about this object when it arrived into the solar system because it was barred by the brightness of the sun. It very much arrived without warning, she said.

But there is no want to panic, said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. In the realm of things that could hit Earth and black out our existences, an interstellar Armageddon is a beauty low on the list.

“The near-earth asteroids are many times, hundreds of thousands of times, more likely to exist, and even those are awfully rare appearance,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s really nothing that people should worry about.

 

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