Written by Aryan Pratap Singh, a grade 8 student.
October 19, 2017 was the day when researchers discovered an enigmatic cigar-shaped object screaming away from the solar system at nearly 57,000 mph (92,000 km/h). The entity was moving too fast to have originated from our solar system, traveling on a U-shaped orbit that took it around the sun and sent it back out into interstellar space.
Astronomers ,using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii, uncovered the odd object, which was at first designated as A/2017 U1. However, it was soon given the name Oumuamua, which in Hawaiian means “visitor from afar arriving first”.
Researchers immediately focused telescopes on Oumuamua in order to learn more about the object before it became too dim for any instrument to see. They found it to be between 1,300 feet and 2,600 feet in length, and quite thin. The visitor was also tumbling end-over-end and had a dark red color, similar to objects in the outer solar system. Scientists determined that it had come from the direction of the constellation Lyra, though no one has figured out precisely what system it originated in.
Oumuamua was classified as a comet when it was first spotted. However, the fact that it did not produce a tail, as comets normally do when they are heated by the sun, led astronomers to second guess themselves.
The current consensus in the scientific community is that Oumuamua is a comet because it’s moving slightly faster than expected, as if it were just being propelled by gravitational tugging from the sun. The most likely explanation is that the object is outgassing material, like a comet does, creating jets that push it along.
This jet-driven motion almost makes Oumuamua sound like a spacecraft that came from another star. Astronomers have been intrigued by this possibility, and researchers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) listened for any potential technological signals leaking from the object not once, but twice.
After seeing Oumuamua, researchers are now eager to spot other similar objects. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile, scheduled to come online early next decade, will scan the night sky in unprecedented detail and hopefully discover another Oumuamua or two.
What are Comets?
Comets are balls of dust that go around the Sun. They are made of things like such as water, carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane – all of this is mixed with dust. These materials are left over from the time when the Solar System was formed.
Written by Aryan Pratap Singh.
Aryan is a grade 8 student in Modern School, New Delhi. He is a keen writer and his current interests are World War II, warships and fighter planes, world leaders, mobile video games, Greek and Egyptian mythology.
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