The universe is a colossal place. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are some strange things happening in it, especially when you consider that on planet Earth alone there still are many unexplained scientific mysteries.
That’s why there was little cause for alarm when an unidentified object flew past Earth last month. As it loomed eerily close to our planet, astronomers began to investigate the mysterious mass, and they made a shocking discovery.
On October 19, a telescope in Hawaii documented an anomaly spinning through our solar system. Astronomers assumed that the rapidly moving faint light was an asteroid or comet that had originated in our solar system.However, further analysis determined that it was a foreign object, and it had come from somewhere else.Based on its orbit, astronomers were able to decipher that the object originated from interstellar space – in layman’s terms, it’s not local. The object, which is being dubbed an “oddball” by astronomers, is the first observed item from outside our solar system.
“What we found was a rapidly rotating object, at least the size of a football field, that changed in brightness quite dramatically,” said lead study author Karen Meech, of the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy, in a statement.
Astronomers had to act quickly in order to research the abnormal object, which flew past at a staggering 85,700 miles per hour. Over the course of three nights, they used multiple telescopes to monitor the rapidly moving mass before it dropped out of sight.
We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment,” NASA Planetary Defense Officer, Lindley Johnson said in a statement.
They learned that the rocky object was shaped like a cigar, and it had a burnt orange exterior due to millions of years of radiation from cosmic rays. It really does sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie.
While objects of the same hue have been found in space, nothing has ever been discovered of this shape before, and that’s what makes it an incredibly important discovery.
“This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study the formation of solar systems beyond our own.”
The object has been unofficially named ‘Oumuamua, a Hawaiin word meaning “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past.” It is the first interstellar asteroid to be officially named.
‘Oumuamua’s discovery means that astronomers may be able to decipher how other solar systems are formed. The rocky mass came from the direction of Vega – a bright star in the Lyra constellation.
However, due to the slow speed of the passing object (yes, 85,700 mph is slow in terms of space), it couldn’t have come from Vega itself as the star wasn’t in the same position 300,000 years ago.
This has led astronomers to conclude that ‘Oumuamua could have been traveling through our solar system for millions of years. Thankfully, the object didn’t collide with Earth. If it had, the results would have been catastrophic.