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.

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 .

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