Mystery space object may be first
confirmed interstellar visitor
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[November 01, 2017]
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A small asteroid or
comet that has been spotted racing through our solar system may have
come from elsewhere in the galaxy, U.S. space scientists say, possibly
marking the first such interstellar visitor observed from Earth.
The mystery object, so far known only as A/2017 U1, was discovered
earlier this month by a researcher using a sophisticated telescope
system at the University of Hawaii that continually scans the universe
for such phenomenon.
"We have been waiting for this day for decades," said Paul Chodas,
manager of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Center
for Near Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
"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 said.
The mass, a quarter mile (400 meters) in diameter, quickly stood out for
scientists because of its extreme orbit, coming from the direction of
the constellation Lyra, almost directly above the elliptical plane where
the planets and other asteroids orbit the sun.
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It crossed under that plane just outside Mercury's orbit on Sept. 2
before being slung by the sun's massive gravity into a sharp turn
under our solar system. The closest the object came to Earth was
about 15 million miles away on Oct. 14.
"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," NASA's Davide Farnocchia said.
Astronomers were urgently tracking A/2017 U1 with telescopes as it
makes its journey through our solar system, hoping to use that data
to confirm the object's interstellar origins and learn what they can
about its composition.
If the object is formally established as the first of its kind
spotted from Earth, rules for naming it would have to be set out by
the International Astronomical Union, NASA scientists said.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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