Popular Science

How to tell an asteroid from a comet, even when its from outside our solar system

An ‘Oumuamua by any other name would still be as fascinating.
'Oumuamua

An artist's idea of what 'Oumuamua might look like.

[European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser](European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser)

In October 2017 an object zipped through the interior of our solar system at 196,000 miles per hour, and then headed away. Astronomers could tell by the angle at which it entered our cosmic neighborhood that it wasn’t from around here, likely coming from a star system far away.

It was moving too fast for researchers to get a good look at it, but as soon as it showed up they started tracking it as closely as possible with any available telescope. Initially, people thought it might be a comet, then an asteroid, then maybe a comet with .

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Popular Science

Popular Science2 min read
With Thousands Missing And Displaced After Dorian, The Bahamas May Soon Get Hit By A Tropical Storm
Recovery efforts on these northern Bahamian islands have only just begun, and many small villages have not yet received aid.
Popular Science4 min readPsychology
Algorithms Aren't All Created Equal
A recent poll found that most Americans think algorithms are unfair. But was the poll itself biased?
Popular Science5 min readFashion & Beauty
A Denim Fix That's Better Than A Patch
There’s a particular sick stomach lurch that happens when you rip a favorite pair of jeans, not unlike the feeling of losing a beloved pet or fumbling a fragile family heirloom. For many of us, the denim we live in becomes an inextricable part of our