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Space

First Extrasolar Object Observed Racing Through Our Solar System (space.com) 133

Enigma2175 writes: For the first time, scientists have observed an object they believe came from outside our solar system. The object is in a hyperbolic orbit that will send it back into interstellar space. From Space.com: "The object, known as A/2017 U1, was detected last week by researchers using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. '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,' Chodas added. 'So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it.' It's unclear what exactly this thing is. When A/2017 U1 was first spotted, it was thought to be a comet (and was therefore given the moniker C/2017 U1). But further observations have revealed no evidence of a coma -- the fuzzy cloud of gas and dust surrounding a comet's core -- so the object's name was amended to its current asteroidal designation."
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First Extrasolar Object Observed Racing Through Our Solar System

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  • by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @05:21AM (#55442907)
    The first on many... :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 27, 2017 @05:21AM (#55442909)

    Arthur C. Clarke was right again!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 27, 2017 @05:22AM (#55442913)

    The object definitely deserves a more prosaic name. Like Rama... :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Rendezvous with Rama" [amazon.com] was a great book.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @05:48AM (#55442993)
    Just wait for the course correction
    • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @07:06AM (#55443205)

      That's an interesting idea. If you could covertly adjust the course of an asteroid as passed by Earth so that nobody knew why it changed, it would cause a huge reaction.

      Any billionaires out there feel like trolling the entire human race?

      • If you could covertly adjust the course of asteroids, there are a lot more honest ways to make money with that technology.
        • You seem to think "trolling the entire human race" involves making money. You may want to look up the definition of "trolling" sometime.

  • by sheramil ( 921315 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @06:20AM (#55443083)

    "ALIENS!"

  • Is it the size of Texas and is it slowing down? Because I think a movie predicted something like this would happen...

    • Even though this one is leaving the solar system already we're not out of the woods yet, "the Ramans do everything in threes."

  • by MiniMike ( 234881 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @07:57AM (#55443383)

    It's already heading out of the solar system, so no need to worry about any malicious intent. TFA says that it passed perihelion around Sep. 9. It was closest to the Earth on Oct 14, at about 15 million miles (24 million km, sorry don't have it in LOC). It's heading toward the constellation Pegasus at over 97000 mph. Maybe we'll send them a warning in a few years?

    It's a bit unsettling that we didn't notice this until it had passed the earth at a relatively close distance, and passed through the plane of the ecliptic twice. I know the chances of an impact are very low, but the late detection indicates that we may be missing an unknown number of events like this, and may not be correct about estimates of the chances of being hit by one.

    • We know the chances of being hit by an object by looking at how many objects hit planets.

      There are certainly a whole lot of these objects that we aren't seeing. We don't have near enough telescopes to scan the complete sky, much less be redundant in case one of the telescopes fails.

      Its 97,000Kphhour, and ~52,000Mph.

      --
      "Meep Meep" - W. Cayote

      • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @08:45AM (#55443651)

        >We know the chances of being hit by an object by looking at how many objects hit planets.

        Also, to some degree, by common sense. Most of the dust spinning around our star that is going to collide with something has had five billion years to do so, and the clumps of matter formed in the process do a fairly good job of sweeping up the leftovers around the edges before they can get as close to the Sun as we are here on Earth.

        I am not an astronomer, but I would anticipate that (given our star formed later than most) most of our neighbouring systems are in a similar state or even more orderly, so they wouldn't have much left in the way of significant rocks to lose to us in any gravitational tug-of-war.

        And after that comes the fact that space is huge relative to the Solar System (making it unlikely any rogue rocks will come significantly within its gravity well), and the Solar System is huge relative to the Earth (making it unlikely any rogue rocks that actually venture into the Solar gravity well will also dip into Earth's). And the Earth itself is tiny so even something flying through our gravity well isn't particularly likely to impact our planet if it's travelling faster than Solar escape velocity (which it pretty much has to have been after falling into the Solar gravity well from outside it).

        I gotta tell you... I am not particularly worried about my lack of insurance coverage in the event of loss due to extra-Solar impactor.

        • This would be a good thing to sell policies for, though... the odds of the company not also being obliterated in either the impact itself or subsequent extinction event/societal collapse and having to make payouts would be very small!
          • >This would be a good thing to sell policies for, though

            Why not? There's Rapture insurance to pay for sinners to care for your pets after God brings you home in the End of Times. (AfterTheRapturePetCare.com). I would hope that most of their sales are 'for the lulz' and a silly certificate, but I'd not be surprised to find they have sincere customers as well.

          • This would be a good thing to sell policies for, though... the odds of the company not also being obliterated in either the impact itself or subsequent extinction event/societal collapse and having to make payouts would be very small!

            Actually, it would be a pretty poor thing to sell policies for. Most asteroids aren't dinosaur-killers. They're 20-meter city-shattering rocks, and if one of them actually hits a city, the resulting payouts would bankrupt most insurance companies.

    • It's a bit unsettling that we didn't notice this until it had passed the earth at a relatively close distance, and passed through the plane of the ecliptic twice. I know the chances of an impact are very low, but the late detection indicates that we may be missing an unknown number of events like this, and may not be correct about estimates of the chances of being hit by one.

      It's the old story - you just don't know what you don't know. And any predictions have to be based on what we know.

      • by Altrag ( 195300 )

        Its not about not knowing -- we're well aware that crap is hurtling through space and its just a matter of time before something comes our direction. Its happened many, many times in the past including some quite recently (that meteor in Russia a few years ago, for example.)

        What its about is being able to detect. If you believe NASA and friends, we have a pretty good detection network for objects more than a few km in size (that is, big enough to cause serious, wide-spread damage if there was a direct imp

        • Its not about not knowing -- we're well aware that crap is hurtling through space and its just a matter of time before something comes our direction.

          Odd you got that from my post. I was replying to :

          "It's a bit unsettling that we didn't notice this until it had passed the earth at a relatively close distance, and passed through the plane of the ecliptic twice. I know the chances of an impact are very low, but the late detection indicates that we may be missing an unknown number of events like this, and may not be correct about estimates of the chances of being hit by one.

          We simply do not know where all of the objects that might hit us are. As this

    • It's heading toward the constellation Pegasus at over 97000 mph.

      It's got a lot of energy to lose yet as it gets further from Sol. Hyperbolic excess speed is in the vicinity of 10-15 km/s, depending on which way it is heading (10 if it's still basically at the same radius from the Sun as Earth, 15 if it's basically headed straight out).

      So it's going to be about six to ten times as long in transit as "97000 mph" suggests....

      • For a speed comparison, it's traveling about twice as fast as the New Horizons probe was at the Jupiter gravity boost (22.85 km/s heliocentric), and about three times as fast as New Horizons is traveling right now (14.22 km/s heliocentric), a bit passed Pluto's orbit at 39.78 AU. It's taken New Horizons just about 4399 days (about 3 months short of 12 years) to get to that distance. Verdict: this extrasolar asteroid will still be within our solar system for quite some time.
    • Don't worry. If one hits us we'll definitely know about it.

      • Don't worry. If one hits us we'll definitely know about it.

        Depends on the size. If one hits us we may never know about it.

    • It needs to report back, and wait for the reinforcements.

    • by SecurityGuy ( 217807 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @11:15AM (#55444585)

      It's already heading out of the solar system, so no need to worry about any malicious intent.

      Somewhere, someone just deleted a voluminous bit of text, replaced it with "Mostly harmless.", and went on listening to Vogon poetry.

    • It's a bit unsettling that we didn't notice this until it had passed the earth at a relatively close distance, and passed through the plane of the ecliptic twice. I know the chances of an impact are very low, but the late detection indicates that we may be missing an unknown number of events like this, and may not be correct about estimates of the chances of being hit by one.

      When you cross the street, do you look UP as well as left and right? No? Neither do most people, and, well, there's a pretty good reason for that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It may contain some protomolecule.

  • by GlobalEcho ( 26240 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @09:19AM (#55443803)

    Escape speed from 1 AU (Earth's orbital radius) is about 42 km/s. The speed of this object, stated as 156,400 km/h, is just over 43/km/h. Assuming the object is a bit more than 1 AU from the Sun right now, it will escape the solar system but not by a wide margin.

    • by kwerle ( 39371 )

      Escape speed from 1 AU (Earth's orbital radius) is about 42 km/s. The speed of this object, stated as 156,400 km/h, is just over 43/km/h. Assuming the object is a bit more than 1 AU from the Sun right now, it will escape the solar system but not by a wide margin.

      When you say "not by a wide margin", what do you mean? Because escape velocity means it'll end up infinitely far away, given infinite time, right?

      Maybe you mean "not at a great speed?"

    • Although I respect your attempt to back into the V_infinity figure for A/2017 U1 using only the information presented in a news article and guesses about the current distance, we have a GIGO situation here. You are way off.

      The actual value of V_infinity (velocity excess after getting arbitrarily far from the Sun) is 26 km/sec [projectpluto.com], and astonishingly high number. This is a kinetic energy 2.6 times higher per unit mass than we have ever imparted to any object with rocket technology (and this New Horizons).

  • This is the kind of event the space program ought to be better prepared for.

    Even if this particular object may be be unreachable with current technology, we should have robotic probes that can approach and even crash into/land on objects that appear unexpectedly.

    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      That.. is a good number of decades away. We've only barely touched probes on a couple of comets within the solar system where we have a firm grasp of their location and how to get there. Trying to send a probe to an extra-solar object like this, especially with little or no warning, would be fairly ambitious to say the least.

      • That.. is a good number of decades away. We've only barely touched probes on a couple of comets within the solar system where we have a firm grasp of their location and how to get there.

        NASA won't be able to do it in less than a few decades because it is an inefficient, lumbering behemoth. But the technology exists, and if there was some market incentive, we could do it cheaply.

        • by Altrag ( 195300 )

          If you're waiting for market incentive, it'll be possibly centuries. There's just not much economic incentive to invest in space exploration. We only got to America because some guy with big dreams convinced a queen that he'd find a faster route to India. We only got to the moon in order to beat the Russians. We're only going to see Mars because one really smart guy with big dreams happened into enough money to fulfill those dreams, without any real guarantee of payback.

          Historically speaking, major expl

          • We only got to America because some guy with big dreams convinced a queen that he'd find a faster route to India.

            I know deGrasse Tyson has been pushing that idea, but he doesn't know what he is talking about. Columbus' voyage was overwhelmingly a privately financed and insured business venture with an expectation of profit. It was risky, but no riskier than modern startups.

            If you're waiting for market incentive, it'll be possibly centuries.

            The market incentives are there: massive amounts of metals and other

      • If we could have detected it on or before its perihelion (2 Sept), that would have given us just over a month. If there were a vehicle more or less ready (less fueling), we might have been able to get the probe in position for perigee: 15 million miles in, say, 30 days is an average speed of 500k miles/ day, or a bit over 20k miles/ hour relative to Earth. (That's a straight line distance, while obviously our probe would not be going in a straight line, so it would need to be faster than that.) The relat

  • BUGS! (Score:5, Funny)

    by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @10:14AM (#55444173)

    The Bugs send another meteor our way !
    But this time we are ready !
    Planetary defenses are better than ever !
    Would you like to know more ?

  • ...fired across our bow to get us to slow down and prepare to be boarded.
  • The "first" except for pretty much every single hyperbolic comet ever observed, right? The first as in not at all the first. The first in a meaning of the word first that does not, in fact, mean first.

    The whole point of "hyperbolic orbit" is that it is an object that isn't bound to the sun, and objects that are not bound to the sun are by definition extrasolar. Yes, any given hyperbolic comet might have come out of the Oort cloud or some such from a previously bound orbit, but since we cannot tell what t

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sure, objects have been observed with hyperbolic orbits before. But I believe all of them have been shown to be comets and all had significant evidence that they had received a gravity boost from one of the planets kicking their orbits up JUST enough to exit the solar system. This one is not a comet, is way out of the plane of the planets (unlikely it has received any gravity boosts) and at least initial observations suggest it has more than enough energy to leave the solar system. So it is highly likely

  • by Eloking ( 877834 ) on Friday October 27, 2017 @10:48AM (#55444405)

    Wow, I had no idea that extrasolar object were so rare. I thought it was pretty common.

    Usually, by looking at the trajectory of every asteroid you can easily simulate it's origin. Of course, that trajectory can be pushed by an external force (impact with another object, friction from gaz etc.) but, as far as I know, it's pretty rare. I'm also guessing that the trajectory of pretty much every object observed (asteroid/comet) so far have been simulated. And since it seem we observed over 500k asteroid so far (quick google search), it mean that extrasolar object are indeed very, very rare.

    It's striking that our whole galaxy, with so many star and light in the night star, is, in reality, so empty.

    • Wow, I had no idea that extrasolar object were so rare. I thought it was pretty common.

      Since "extrasolar" means outside the solar system every star, except the sun, we see is an "extrasolar object" and even if you exclude stars for some reason the exoplanets observed would still count. Then there are all the cosmic rays which are extrasolar objects too. So what you can say is that it is the first non-subatomic, extrasolar object observed in the solar system.

  • I guess the really interesting question is whether it's going to head out on the same vector it came in on, in which case it's most likely a flyby... everything else being really improbably likely to go out the way it came in.

    I vote aliens.

  • Seems interesting, in an academic sense. But as we've been a spacefaring species for decades now and have NOTHING, apparently, ready to go to intercept and even get a good look at this thing, I'd say our leaders and intelligentsia dropped the ball on this one pretty embarrassingly.

    In any case, please let me know if it emanates unexplained energy, (i.e., radio frequency or microwaves, etc.,) or appears to change course or speed other than in obvious and well-anticipated response to gravity, from, for exam

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