Astronomers are busy tracking a small object zipping through Earth’s solar system. The object has also been reported to be moving fast. No one knows what it is yet. It could be a comet, an asteroid, or something else.
NASA said that it’s working hard to try and identify the object and its origin. The space agency has also noted that preliminary observations show that the object lacks common characteristics found on regular space rocks. This could actually suggest that it may not be from our solar system.
NASA says that it’s very likely that this could be the very first interstellar object to be confirmed by astronomers around the world. Paul Chodas, manager at the NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies noted that astronomers have been waiting for this moment for decades.
He added that the existence of such objects has already been theorized in recent years. Astronomers believe there could be asteroids or comets moving between and around the stars that sometimes pass through the Earth’s solar system.
It’s the first time that such an object has been detected. So far, initial observations suggest that this could be an interstellar object. However, NASA says that they will need to collect more data in order to confirm it. The object has been codenamed “A/2017 U1”. Astronomers estimate its size at 400 meters in diameter. The speed in which it’s moving through space has been estimated at just above 25 kilometers per second.
The first discovery was made by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope at the University of Hawaii on October 19th. Rob Weryk, a researcher at the Institute of Astronomy in the University has been credited with the first observation. On first glance, Weryk could see that there was something different about the object and although there are many mysteries about it, one thing is already clear - it poses no threat to Earth.
A statement by NASA confirmed that the object safely passed planet Earth on October 14th, 15 million miles away. But where is it heading? Astronomers believe that the object could be headed towards the Pegasus constellation on its way out of the Earth’s solar system. David Farnocchia, a scientist working at NASA’s Near Earth Object Studies, said that this was one of the most extreme orbits he has ever seen in his career as a researcher.
Farnocchia added that based on the speed that the object is moving at the moment and its current trajectory, it appears that it’s heading out of the Earth’s solar system and it will not come back.
As for the object’s final name, Farnocchia said that since it’s a new object and a first of its kind, the naming rules will be determined by the International Astronomical Union. Nonetheless, it will surely get a better name than its current A/2017 U1 codename.
For astronomers around the world, this is perhaps one of the major observations this year. We will have to wait for more data to be collected and see what it actually is.