What NASA has referred to as an “unusual object” is 400 meters in diameter, moved quickly through our inner solar system over the past two months and may be the first interstellar asteroid to be observed by astronomers.
The object, called A/2017 U1 for now, was discovered Oct. 19 by a telescope at the University of Hawaii, according to a news release published Thursday by NASA’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Astronomers believe that the item, which passed through our solar system in September and October, originated outside our solar system, due to its unique orbit.
It will take more data and study to learn more about its exact origin, but NASA and other agencies are “urgently working to point telescopes around the world and in space at this notable object,” the news release states.
“We have been waiting for this day for decades,” said NASA Center for Near-Earth Object Studies Manager Paul Chodas, according to the news release.
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The name A/2017 U1 is temporary because the International Astronomical Union has no established rule for naming interstellar objects within our system. It has never needed one until now, potentially.
NASA designated the object as an asteroid, not a comet, on Thursday, according to The Washington Post, but astronomers still don’t know exactly what A/2017 U1 is.
Don’t worry, though. A/2017 U1 poses no threat, and has safely come and gone, coming closest to Earth on Oct. 14 at a distance of 15 million miles, NASA says.