Scientists have detected a massive, fast-moving object entering our solar system from deep space, but can only speculate right now as to what it is.
They believe the object is the first recorded “interstellar object,” one that began in another solar system and traveled to our own. And, for that reason, they believe it’s an object they will never again get to see.
Rob Weryk, a researcher at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy working with data collected from its Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, reported the object Oct. 19 to the Minor Planet Center. As other scientists made their own observations from other locations, the object’s trajectory and place of origin began to emerge.
By the time it was observed, it had already made its closest approach to Earth. It came within Mercury’s orbit of the sun before it was turned away by its gravitational forces toward the Pegasus constellation. Moving at 15 miles per second—roughly 13 percent of the speed of light—it’s already out of the range of most telescopes.
Originally believed to be a comet, it did not feature the “tail” caused by the venting of gases caused by solar heating as it approached the sun. Its size and color suggested it was more likely an asteroid, roughly a quarter-mile in size.