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Interstellar Asteroid

Our first interstellar visitor may give us insight into other solar systems

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A interstellar visitor has entered our solar system, and astronomers have never seen anything like it.

An interstellar asteroid, named 'Oumuamua, was first spotted on Oct. 19 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Experts say it's the first observed object from outside our solar system, and may give scientists a glimpse into how other solar systems form.

The object is almost a quarter-mile long and has a unique elongated shape, 10 times longer than it is wide. These surprising dimensions are unheard of for asteroids in our own solar system.

One analysis in the journal Nature suggested its uncommon appearance may indicate that the object had existed in the Milky Way for some time, unattached to any solar system, before making its way to ours. It's estimated to be hundreds of millions of years old.

"For decades we've theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now – for the first time – we have direct evidence they exist." said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement.

"This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own."
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate

Traveling at about 85,700 miles per hour as of Nov. 20, the object will end its stay in our solar system in 2019, and head for the constellation Pegasus.

But before then, 'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with some previously unattainable insight into other solar systems, fulfilling the loose translation of its Hawaiian name: "a messenger that reaches out from the distant past."

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