For a long time now humanity has looked up at the stars and wondered if we would ever get visited. Well, we just did. What's the first thing to visit us from outside our solar system? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.
Astronomers around the world have been paying attention to an unexpected visitor from beyond our solar system. No, sadly, it’s not aliens. The exciting visit is from an asteroid from another planetary system. Scientists have been observing an object a little less than a quarter of a mile wide that is currently cruising through our celestial backyard. For now the object is being called A/2017 U1. By tracing the object’s path and speed of travel, scientists have determined that this is the first object observed to come from beyond our solar system. A pretty awesome astronomical first, and all of us are alive to hear about it and learn more about what’s out there!
On Oct 14th, this object came as close to the Earth as it’s going to get, about 15 million miles away from us. This distant traveler is only going to be in our solar system for a relatively short time because it’s flying through super super fast. How fast is it going? Consider that the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is on its way out of the solar system, traveling just over 10 miles a second. This fast traveling foreign object was moving through interstellar space at about 16 miles a second, moving too quickly to be held by the Sun’s gravity, so it swung around our star on a hyperbolic path and will never return.
So, why is it here? Scientists have studied models and done the math to understand the early days of our solar system. Here, they've seen that gas giants like Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune were not always where they are now. As a solar system and its planets form there's motion and migration as these systems develop. During formation and the motions of big objects like planets some debris of dust and rock get flung around, sometimes even ejected out of the solar system all together. That’s how it worked here, giving a hint as to how other solar systems form too. Perhaps this distant traveler was ejected out of its initial home stellar system at some point and has been drifting through space and continues to do so still, with a quick pass through our solar system of course.
While it’s in our neck of the cosmic woods, scientists are studying it as much as possible to determine all the various details of this object in order to better classify it and to further understand the natural world that surrounds us.
Stay tuned as more studies are done on this foreign traveler by real scientists and probably those Ancient Aliens guys too.