NASA Learns More About Interstellar Visitor 'Oumuamua

phys.org | 11/14/2018 | Staff
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In November 2017, scientists pointed NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope toward the object known as 'Oumuamua—the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system. The infrared Spitzer was one of many telescopes pointed at 'Oumuamua in the weeks after its discovery that October.

'Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect when it looked more than two months after the object's closest aproach to Earth in early September. However, the "non-detection" puts a new limit on how large the strange object can be. The results are reported in a new study published today in the Astronomical Journal and coauthored by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

'Oumuamua - Surprises - Day - Spitzer - David

"'Oumuamua has been full of surprises from day one, so we were eager to see what Spitzer might show," said David Trilling, lead author on the new study and a professor of astronomy at Northern Arizona University. "The fact that 'Oumuamua was too small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result."

'Oumuamua was first detected by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii (the object's name is a Hawaiian word meaning "visitor from afar arriving first"), in October 2017 while the telescope was surveying for near-Earth asteroids.

Subsequent - Observations - Telescopes - NASA - Space

Subsequent detailed observations conducted by multiple ground-based telescopes and NASA's Hubble Space Telescope detected the sunlight reflected off 'Oumuamua's surface. Large variations in the object's brightness suggested that 'Oumuamua is highly elongated and probably less than half a mile (2,600 feet, or 800 meters) in its longest dimension.

But Spitzer tracks asteroids and comets using the infrared energy, or heat, that they radiate, which can provide more specific information about an object's size than optical observations of reflected sunlight alone would.

Fact - 'Oumuamua - Spitzer - Sets - Limit

The fact that 'Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect sets a limit on the object's total surface area. However, since the...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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