By Lee Billings
From time immemorial, people gazing up at the night sky have dreamed of reaching out to touch the stars. But today we know that even the closest ones are so far away that light itself, the fastest thing known, takes several years to make the trip. The dream of such a visit seems as remote as the stars themselves—unless, perhaps, the stars somehow send emissaries to us.
Remarkably, that may be happening. Last year astronomers spotted a curious body they called ‘Oumuamua, streaking through the solar system too fast to be caught in the sun’s gravitational clutches; its trajectory confirmed it was an interstellar voyager, tossed out from its unknown system long ago to drift alone through the galaxy. ‘Oumuamua was the first of its kind to be observed, and now it may have another newfound counterpart much closer to home.
Researchers Fathi Namouni of Côte d’Azur Observatory in France and Helena Morais of São Paulo State University in Brazil say they have identified an interstellar asteroid that, rather than passing through, somehow settled down in our solar system. If confirmed, the discovery would open the possibility for robotic missions to visit and investigate a piece of another planetary system without ever leaving our stellar home. The findings were published Monday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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