ASU Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

Detecting Past and Future Interstellar Visitors

Comet ISON in 2013. Credit: Gerald Rhemann, Sky Vistas

With last fall’s detection of an interstellar visitor, ‘Oumuamua, astronomers are changing how they think about finding these objects. Its odd hyperbolic trajectory and speed ruled it out as an object orbiting the Sun and as an asteroid being flung out of the solar system by any of the planets. In a paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomer Carlos de la Fuente Marcos wonders if there is enough data on past objects observed by astronomers to retroactively discover interstellar visitors mistakenly labelled as having originated in our own solar system. After tracing their paths back 100,000 years, he and his collaborators found that a small percentage of the 339 objects considered may have come from the nearby Scholz’s star, which our Sun had a run in with approximately 70,000 years ago, and that Comet ISON may have come from another solar system as well. Marcos hopes that this paper will inspire astronomers to look for tell-tale signs in future telescope surveys.

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