HOUSTON, TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Scientists say that ‘Oumuamua – the first known interstellar object to travel through our solar system – sped up unexpectedly while passing through our corner of the universe last year. That according to a statement released today from NASA.
“Using observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories, an international team of scientists have confirmed ′Oumuamua … got an unexpected boost in speed and shift in trajectory as it passed through the inner solar system last year,” NASA said in a statement on their website.
“Our high-precision measurements of ′Oumuamua’s position revealed that there was something affecting its motion other than the gravitational forces of the Sun and planets,” said Marco Micheli of ESA’s (European Space Agency) Space Situational Awareness Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre in Frascati, Italy, and lead author of a paper describing the team’s findings.
Scientists say that the changes in speed and direction were consistent with the behavior of a comet.
“This additional subtle force on ′Oumuamua likely is caused by jets of gaseous material expelled from its surface,” said Farnocchia. “This same kind of outgassing affects the motion of many comets in our solar system.”
“Comets normally eject large amounts of dust and gas when warmed by the Sun,” NASA officials said. “But according to team scientist Olivier Hainaut of the European Southern Observatory, ‘there were no visible signs of outgassing from ′Oumuamua, so these forces were not expected.'”
Scientists suspect ‘Oumuamua did produce enough dust and gas to affect its motion – just not enough to be detected.
“The more we study ′Oumuamua, the more exciting it gets,” said Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Astronomy and co-author of the study. “I’m amazed at how much we have learned from a short, intense observing campaign. I can hardly wait for the next interstellar object!”
NASA says ‘Oumuamua is less than a half-mile long, is already further away from our sun than the planet Jupiter and is traveling at about 70,000 mph towards the outskirts of the solar system.
“Because ′Oumuamua is the first interstellar object ever observed in our solar system, researchers caution that it’s difficult to draw general conclusions about this newly-discovered class of celestial bodies,” said the NASA statement. “However, observations point to the possibility that other star systems regularly eject small comet-like objects and there should be more of them drifting among the stars,” the statement continued. “Future ground- and space-based surveys could detect more of these interstellar vagabonds, providing a larger sample for scientists to analyze.”
NASA will host a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) about the ′Oumuamua observations from 3 to 5 p.m. Central Time Thursday, June 28.