The unusual, cigar-shaped interstellar asteroid 'Oumuamua, discovered racing through Earth's solar system last October at a blistering 30 kilometres per second (67,100 mph), likely originated in a binary star system.
Scientists originally thought it might be an icy comet, but now agree it is an asteroid.
The study found that rocky objects are more likely to have originated in binary star systems than from single star systems like the one Earth is located in.
'Oumuamua made its closest approach to Earth - about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) - on October 14.
Subsequent analysis showed that the object, 'Oumuamua, was the first interstellar asteroid ever to visit our solar system.
The new study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. That, plus the 400-meter-long object's high speed and odd trajectory, strongly suggested that 'Oumuamua was an asteroid, not a comet, from beyond our solar system.
The University of Toronto's Alan Jackson reported Monday that the asteroid - the first confirmed object in our solar system originating elsewhere - is probably from a binary star system. The researchers suggest that 'Oumuamua was very likely ejected from a binary system sometime during planet formation.
Because of its high speed and extremely eccentric orbit, scientists know it could not have originated in our solar system.
For planetary scientists like Jackson, being able to observe objects like 'Oumuamua may yield important clues about how planet formation works in other star systems. They looked at how common these star systems are in the galaxy. In single star systems like our own, comets make up the vast majority of objects that are ejected because they form farther away and are less bound by the gravity of the sun.
In other words, from the start, astronomers knew was a unusual object! The object is now barreling toward the outer solar system and has been too distant and faint to study even with large telescopes since mid-December, NASA officials have said. In fact, astronomers had expected to see interstellar asteroids before this. They were also able to determine that rocky objects are ejected from binary systems in comparable numbers to icy objects.
So farewell, 'Oumuamua, and we hope to see more like you soon. But astronomers gathered a slew of data about 'Oumuamua while they could, and they will doubtless be mining this information for a long time to come.
'Oumuamua - Hawaiian for "scout" - had entered the nearby planetary group from interstellar space after an adventure that may have endured a great many years.
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