First scout

29 November 2017 | by Guy Consolmagno


This body emitted no visible gases at all, even as it fell to within a quarter of Earth’s distance to the sun

In the past month we’ve been able to train some of the largest telescopes in the world on the new visitor to our solar system that I wrote about here last month, a small body whose orbit indicates that it had come to us from outside our own solar system.

“We’ve been expecting for twenty years to find some body on an orbit like this,” explained Brett Gladman to me. He’s an astronomer at the University of British Columbia who specialises in the faint distant objects of our solar system. (I’m visiting Vancouver this week.)

He wasn’t surprised that its path was almost perpendicular to the plane where our sun’s planets orbit. There’s no reason why it couldn’t come from any direction, since it is not tied to our system. He wasn’t surprised that it was small, barely visible to our biggest telescopes.

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