Florida Astronomers Join in Tracking 'Outsider Object'

posted by Alan McBride -

A cigar-shaped asteroid making its way through our solar system is capturing the imagination of scientists around the globe.

The asteroid, which scientists have been tracking since November, is an outsider, an object not native to this solar system.

In fact, astronomers say this is this first confirmed object in our solar system which came either from another star system or the deeps of interstellar space.

University of Central Florida Associate Professor Yan Fernandez says he, his associates, and friends had to move fast to get telescope time for viewing the object, since it was already on the way out of this solar system when it was discovered.

Scientists tracking this object say it shot past our sun on Sept. 9 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour.

The Pan-STARRS survey at the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii discovered the strange object and named it `Oumuamua. 

Experts estimate the asteroid could have been coming through the Milky Way for hundreds of millions of years before its encounter with Earth's solar system.

With all of this, and more, in mind, the teams will be going through their collected data, learning how much this asteroid may have in common with those native to our own solar system ... or if they have stumbled onto something outside human experience.

Fernandez and his collaborators published their own observations this week in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

He and several other astronomers around the globe dashed to get telescope time at various facilities, since a find like this is a rare chance to get some questions answered and other questions discovered.

Researchers confirm they have been able to measure the asteroid's orbit, brightness and color. 

The most intriguing aspect of the object, at least for now, is the apparent extreme elongation of it.

The object is up to one-quarter mile long and perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. 

That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date. 

And, while this is the first such visitor to our solar system from interstellar space to be confirmed, it may not be the last.

Some astronomers speculate that we may get visitors like this as frequently as once a year.

These objects, however, are faint and hard to spot ... and may have been missed until now. 

It is only recently that survey telescopes, such as Pan-STARRS, are powerful enough to have a chance to discover them.

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