Astronomers and scientists are often revered for their intelligence. Yet they’ll be the first to tell you that they don’t know everything. One of the mysteries they want to know more about is the fast moving object that just broke all of the solar-system’s rules as it blew past the planet Earth.
“It was first seen just a month ago,” Fox writes. “A tiny blip of light was seen to be moving through the sky by the PanSTARRS1 telescope in Hawaii.”
That tiny blip of light caught astronomers’ attention. It was moving very fast, and it wasn’t following recognizable orbital patterns.
Que the mathematicians. What was this thing? The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center (MPC) voiced an opinion that the object came from deep space. The means it didn’t originate in our solar system.
“If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet,” the MPC writes.
The object has been named C/2017 U1.
— Michele Bannister (@astrokiwi) October 25, 2017
C/2017 U1, a less-than-romantic name for the unidentified object, was drawn in toward our sun’s gravity. After the sun bent its trajectory, the PanSTARRS telescope spotted the object.
Just how fast was it moving when it roared past Earth? 26km per second. That’s 58,160 miles per hour.
C/2017 U1 passed by us at 24 million kilometers on October 14. The speed it was traveling will give it enough momentum to make it out of our solar system.
What piqued curiosity, in addition to the speed, was the direction of the orbit. Most objects stay in one predictable plane. C/2017 U1, Fox writes, came “down on the plane from 122 degrees, from the direction of the star Vega, in the constellation Lyra. And its path did not indicate the curved ellipse typical of clockwork-like returning comets.”
Objects moving this fast, this far away, are hard to see. The estimates now suggest that C/2017 U1 is a comet about 160 meters wide.
The gravity of the sun pulled the comet in and its momentum shot it back out. The heat from the sun would normally burn up a comet of that size, but this one was traveling too fast and made it back out on the other side.
In many ways, we dodged a fast moving bullet. Right now, scientists believe that the comet was moving alone. The best hypothesis now is that it came from Vega, which is 25 light years away.
— Tony Dunn (@tony873004) October 25, 2017