Astronomers may have found solar system's first observed interstellar object

While comets regularly fly through our solar system scientists believe they may have spotted a comet from another solar system passing by our planet for the first time

A/2017 U1 appears to be traveling at 26 kilometres (16.2 miles) per second - too fast to be burned up by our Sun or caught in its orbit.

An object that isn't acting like most other objects in space has been picked up by a telescope in Hawaii that takes images for NASA. This odd space rock, initially thought to be a comet, is the first interstellar object we have ever been able to observe within our solar system.

The discovery marks the first time that an object as small as a comet has been detected using transit photometry, a technique by which astronomers observe a star's light for telltale dips in intensity.

Astronomers around the world are working to place telescopes to ascertain the path of orgination of the object.

Chodas said more data is needed to confirm the object is truly an interstellar visitor. Robert Weryk from the the University of Hawaii was the first to identify the object.

Weryk looked through the archives for the Pan-STARRS telescope, which conducts nightly sky surveys in search of celestial objects moving through the space near Earth, and found the mysterious body in images as far back as early September.

"Its motion could not be explained using either a normal solar system asteroid or comet orbit", Weryk said in a press release.

He said it was "going extremely fast and on such a trajectory" that it is clearly "on its way out of the solar system and not coming back".

It is expected to depart our solar system soon, NASA scientist Davide Farnocchia said.

The team then figured out its provenance by observing its orbit. The sun's gravity caused the object to make a steep turn, and it passed safely under the Earth's orbit on October 14 at about 15 million miles, which is roughly 60 times the distance between Earth and the moon. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the constellation Lyra and had been cruising through the chilly void of interstellar space at almost 16 miles a second.

Since it's potentially the first object of its kind, the International Astronomical Union must first determine a naming convention before A/2017 U1 can get a permanent name.

Animation showing the path of A/2017 U1 through the solar system. The Minor Planet Center is hosted by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and is a sub-node of the Planetary Data System Small Bodies Node at the University of Maryland (http://www.minorplanetcenter.net ). All are projects of NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, and elements of the agency's Planetary Defense Coordination Office within NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Maunakea.

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