A small, fast-moving object has entered the solar system and is zipping around it, sending astronomers and scientists on Earth into a frenzy.
No one, not even NASA, is sure of that exactly the object is. It could be an asteroid or a comet, but the space agency doesn’t know yet where it came from. The object is behaving unlike local space rocks, meaning it could have come from outside the solar system, CNN reports.
If this theory is confirmed, the space body “would be the first interstellar object to be observed and confirmed by astronomers,” NASA said.
Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said,
We have been waiting for this day for decades.
He explained, “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.”
NASA says astronomers are examining both the ground and space with telescopes to gather more data. For now, the unidentified object is called A/2017 U1. According to experts, it’s less than a quarter-mile in diameter and is speeding through space at 15.8 miles per second.
The space object was discovered on October 19 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii. Rob Weryk, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy, was the first person to spot and identify the object, and notice that there was something peculiar about it.
Weryk said, “Its motion could not be explained using either a normal solar system asteroid or comet orbit. This object came from outside our solar system.”
It’s not a threat to Earth, scientists say. On October 14, the object safely passed at around 15 million miles away. The general observation is that the object is heading towards the constellation Pegasus, and is on its way out.
Since this is the first of its kind, naming the object may need new guidelines from the International Astronomical Union.