Space Roundup 2: Rogue Rocks Revenge!

Learn about some outer space objects — one visitor and one distant cousin — in the news right now
kbo_space rock An artist's impression of one possible appearance for 2014 MU69, an ancient space rock orbiting a billion miles beyond Pluto. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

Outer space. It's so vast, so open, so full of mystery...sometimes we need to do a deluxe post just to get to all the things we're finding. Call it a space roundup!

This time, we're talking about some rogue rocks of great interest. One is an interstellar traveler in search of a home. The other, an ancient relative a billion miles past Pluto in search of a name (which you could help provide!).

Let's start by welcoming our solar system's first-ever recorded guest: 2017 U1.

Just passing through

2017u1 space rock

The path that 2017 U1 has taken through our solar system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Don't be offended if 2017 U1 doesn't accept your invitation for dinner. It is clearly just passing through. Whether it's an asteroid or a comet, researchers are convinced of two things: that it is not from around, and that it is booking it through our solar system. This makes it the first recorded foreign object to enter our solar system.

It was first noticed on October 19 by researchers in Hawaii. By retracing its steps, experts believe that it passed closest to the Sun on September 9, before the Sun's mighty gravity caused it to make a sharp turn back up toward the orbits on the inner planets (including us!). It passed closest to Earth on October 14, meaning that researchers first noticed it as it was flying away from us.

2017 U1 is quite small (about 400 meters or .25 miles across). And it's moving extremely fast — around 44 kilometers per second (27 miles per second). Researchers are doing their best to observe this speedster while they still can. It's going to come around again!

Hey, have we met before?

kbo_comparison_space rock

A second impression of 2014 MU69 as two joined objects. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

The second part of our space roundup takes us back to NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. (This craft gave us recent mind-blowing pictures and data of Pluto.) In fact, in our last story on New Horizons, we closed the piece by mentioning a distant space rock called 2014 MU69.

New Horizons is still not due to visit it until January 1, 2019. But already, NASA is learning more about this KBO, or Kuiper Belt Object. (The Kuiper belt is the most distant region of the solar system, including Pluto, which contains ancient objects left over from the 4.5 billion year-old blast that created the solar system.) New telescope data suggests that 2014 MU69 is probably a "extreme prolate spheroid" (like some odd dinner roll), and may even be two objects bound closely together by gravity.

Though we're going to have to wait another year or so to know the truth for certain, NASA wants to nail something down sooner than that. Its name! 2014 MU69 is not catchy at all. They want a snappy nickname and have set up a website to do just that. Because whether it's a pet or a bike, the best part of getting anything new is naming it!

If you want to vote or give add your own nickname for 2014 MU69, you can do so here.

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