A Long, Red Visitor

Scientists have just discovered the first object that has come from outside our solar system, but it was no alien spaceship, no huge planet or passing star, but a small asteroid, elongated so much that it is at least five times as long as it is wide (there have been conflicting reports from different observatories of a 6:1, or a 10:1 ratio of length to width). The survey telescope called PAN-STARRS was first to notice that the speed and path ‘Oumuamua was taking, heading at great speed out of the solar system meant that it had to be an interstellar object. ‘Oumuamua was formed around another star, then ejected by a chaotic event, possibly a planet drifting from its orbit. The solar system it comes from may have been young, as infant solar systems are chaotic. Scientists haven’t been able to get good spectral measurements on ‘Oumuamua, as it is too faint, but they know it has a reddish tinge, like some of the Kuiper Belt objects. As its unique shape and trajectory was discovered by a team from the University of Hawaii, it has a Hawaiian name. ‘Oumuamua means, “a messenger from afar coming first”. As the name suggests, it is only a matter of time before we discover many more visitors, and maybe a messenger or two…

by Conor Timlin