Our first interstellar visitor is a long, ominous asteroid

Elongated asteroid in the Solar System

Following an investigation, it is now believed this is an interstellar object and our solar system's first confirmed interstellar asteroid. The predicted interstellar number density of icy interstellar objects of 2.4×10 au suggested that these should have been detected by surveys, yet hitherto none had been seen. They think this asteroid, and presumably others like it, may have been formed as our own solar system gave birth to the planets beyond the asteroid belt (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), by spitting out huge chunks of metal and other dense rock. The ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and other observatories swung into action to gather as much data as possible about the object while it was still within range. This indicated that the object was a spindle shape about 400 m (1,300 ft) long that revolves on its axis every 7.3 hours.

Weryk and fellow Institute for Astronomy researcher Marco Micheli realised it was going extremely fast (with enough speed to avoid being captured by the Sun's gravitational pull) and was on a very eccentric trajectory taking it out of our Solar System.

And fortunately for all fans of oddball interstellar interlopers, there will likely be news of more in the near future.

The asteroid has a highly "elongated shape" - around 400m long. Also, one has to realise we don't know where the rotation pole is pointed. "The discoverers of I1/2017U1 have named it "'Oumuamua" - a Hawaiian-based word meaning a messenger reaching out from the distant past.

"Needless to say, we dropped everything so we could quickly point the Gemini telescopes at 'Oumuamua immediately after its discovery", said Dr. Laura Ferrarese, Director of the Gemini Observatory.

"This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape", Meech said. Speed was vital as 'Oumuamua was rapidly fading as it headed away from the Sun and past the Earth's orbit, on its way out of the Solar System.

This set up a conundrum: Scientists assumed interstellar objects would behave more like comets than asteroids until 'Oumuamua came along. As instruments on telescopes get more powerful, we will be able to detect them more readily and even make spectral measurements of their composition.

"We also found that it had a reddish colour, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it".

The certainty of its extraterrestrial origin comes from an analysis that shows its orbit is nearly impossible to achieve from within our Solar System.

'Oumuamua came from the direction of Vega, a bright star in the Lyra constellation.

The asteroid is now heading towards Jupiter and is predicted to leave our solar system in 2019, continuing its long journey towards the Pegasus constellation.

"We are continuing to observe this unique object", Hainaut said in the ESO statement. As it appears this isn't the case, the chances are that there are lots more interstellar rocks in the Solar System than we thought.

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