The object which is codenamed ‘A/2017 U1’ was recently discovered flying at astronomical speeds past our Sun, and could potentially be the first confirmed interstellar comet or asteroid.
So far, observations have suggested that the object is in a strong hyperbolic orbit, meaning it is fast enough to escape the gravitational pull of our Sun.
“When we run the orbit for this [object] back in time, it stays hyperbolic all the way out – there are no close approaches to any of the giant planets that could have given this thing a kick,” said Dr Gareth Williams, associate director of the Minor Planet Center.
“If we follow the orbit out into the future, it stays hyperbolic, so it is coming from interstellar space and it is going to interstellar space. If further observations confirm the unusual nature of this orbit, this object may be the first clear case of an interstellar comet.”
Paul Chodas from the Center of Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has also been monitoring the object.
“We have been waiting for this day for decades,” he said.
“It’s long been theorized that such objects exist – asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system – but this is the first such detection.”
“So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it.”