Oct. 27, 2017 (Phys.org) -- A Queen's University Belfast scientist is leading an international team in studying a new visitor to our solar system -- the first known comet or asteroid to visit us from another star.
The fast-moving object, now named A/2017 U1, was initially spotted Oct. 18 in Hawaii by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's, together with colleagues in the UK, United States and Chile have been tracking it using powerful telescopes across the world.
"By Wednesday this week it became almost certain this object was alien to our solar system," Fitzsimmons said. "We immediately started studying it that night with the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands, then on Thursday night with the Very Large Telescope in Chile"
The initial data implies it is a small rocky or icy object that may have been drifting through our galaxy for millions or even billions of years, before entering our solar system by chance. The object flew into the solar system from above, was close to the Sun last month, and is now already on its way back out to the stars.
Astronomers believe it was probably thrown out of another star system during a period of planet formation.