OCT 30, 2017 5:51 PM PDT

Unidentified Interstellar Object Whizzes Through Our Solar System

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

While astronomers witness asteroids and comets whizzing through our solar system on a consistent basis, it’s not every day that one of those happens to be an interstellar space rock taking a shortcut through our solar system.

It would seem that a space rock originating from an alien solar system has trespassed into our planetary neighborhood. Experts are now scrambling to study what’s left of it before it whips out of our view just as fast as if came flying in.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dubbed A/2017 U1, the rock was first discovered on October 19th by researcher Rob Weryk as he made observations through the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy.

It’s reportedly the first alien space rock that astronomers have ever identified, and while that doesn’t mean that interstellar space rocks haven’t penetrated our solar system’s property lines previously, it does highlight that this is the first one to get recognized for it.

As recent reports put it, Weryk noticed the abnormal speed and trajectory of A/2017 U1 and it quickly became apparent that it didn’t agree with other objects of this nature. Worthy of note, the rock measured just under a quarter of a mile across and was moving at a respectable 98,000 miles per hour.

"This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen," said NASA scientist Davide Farnocchia from the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at JPL. "It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back."

Related: Size really does matter regarding asteroid collisions

Because of how fast A/2017 U1 was moving, even the Sun’s immense gravitational pull wasn’t adequate to capture it. Nevertheless, that very same gravitational tug put a massive dent in the space rock’s trajectory, as you’ll see in the illustration above. You'll also notice just how closely it tangoed with the Earth – only 60 times the distance of our Moon away from us.

While we realize that it's an alien object, ascertaining where it came from is a tough feat. Through its trajectory, astronomers can say it came from the direction of the constellation Lyra. It is now heading for the constellation Pegasus after being redirected by the Sun’s gravity.

"We have been waiting for this day for decades," said CNEOS Manager Paul Chodas. "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. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it."

Related: FEMA and NASA begin working together to plan for asteroid emergencies

Because the rock came into our solar system by pure luck, the event underscores just how plausible it is for a decent-sized space rock to travel through interstellar space unnoticed. That said, it’s not only the near-Earth objects (NEOs) that we should keep an eye out for…

Source: Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUN 14, 2020
Space & Astronomy
NASA Picks Astrobotic to Deliver VIPER Rover to the Moon
JUN 14, 2020
NASA Picks Astrobotic to Deliver VIPER Rover to the Moon
NASA is no stranger to autonomous rovers. To date, the American space agency has sent four rovers to the Martian surface ...
JUN 29, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Hubble Captures the 'Flapping' of Cosmic 'Wings'
JUN 29, 2020
Hubble Captures the 'Flapping' of Cosmic 'Wings'
The Hubble Space Telescope continues to send us incredible images of space. It has recently captured an image involving ...
JUL 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Reveal the Biggest-Ever 3D Map of the Universe
JUL 26, 2020
Scientists Reveal the Biggest-Ever 3D Map of the Universe
After five years of research, an international team over 100 astrophysicists from around 30 institutions worldwide has r ...
JUL 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
JUL 31, 2020
How Many Missions to Mars Have Been Successful?
It’s commonly said that roughly half of all missions to Mars have succeeded- while roughly half have failed. But a ...
AUG 31, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Understanding the Fate of Stars Consumed by Black Holes
AUG 31, 2020
Understanding the Fate of Stars Consumed by Black Holes
If a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole, the forces exerted on the star tear it to shreds, generating a hu ...
OCT 22, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Why Do Galaxies Come in Different Shapes?
OCT 22, 2020
Why Do Galaxies Come in Different Shapes?
When looking it galaxies, it takes little to realize that they come in different shapes- whether they're swirling bl ...
Loading Comments...