Object Suspected to Come from Outside the Solar System Flies near Earth

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. interstellar / ˌɪn tərˈstɛl ər / (adj) – existing or happening between stars

    Presently, interstellar travel is impossible because the distance between our solar system and other solar systems is too great.

  2. hurtle / ˈhɜr tl / (v) – to move very fast or with great force

    The astronauts are hurtled into space through a very fast space craft.

  3. pique / pik / (v) – to cause interest or excitement about something

    Astronomy piqued my interest, so I took up astrophysics in college.

  4. faint / feɪnt / (adj) – not clear or bright

    Stars that are very far from Earth appear faint to the naked eye.

  5. moot / mut / (adj) – debatable but very difficult to prove

    The idea of whether life forms can exist outside Earth is a moot point.


Read the text below.

A mysterious object suspected to be our solar system’s first interstellar visitor hurtled past Earth last October.

The object was discovered by a researcher in Hawaii using a telescope system that scans for objects that may threaten the Earth. The object, believed to be a comet or an asteroid, was referred to as A/2017 U1. What piqued the curiosity of scientists was that its speed and orbit were so extreme that it was able to escape the gravitational pull of the sun.

Scientists are continuing to trace the object’s path. However, scientists expect that the object may become too faint to be detected by telescopes a few months after it passed our planet.

With little information about A/2017 U1, its origin remains a moot point. Some scientists believe that it may be an object from the Kuiper / ˈkaɪ pər / Belt, a rocky region in our solar system past Neptune, but others still assume that it was an interstellar body. Whatever it was, scientists nonetheless agree that it was not a threat.

Scientists have long been interested in interstellar research, with some studies dating back to the 1990s. Among the most recent studies is the Starlight program, which is looking into sending living organisms from Earth into a nearby star system. Scientists are planning to send two kinds of micro-animals: water bears and a species of roundworms.

These micro-animals were chosen because of their ability to survive extreme environments. In fact, the roundworms have previously survived orbiting Earth aboard the International Space Station. Scientists plan to use lasers to shoot the micro-animals into outer space aboard a phone-sized spacecraft.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• What problems could arise from sending life forms into another star system? Speculate.
• Should we continue to invest in interstellar research? Why or why not?

Discussion B

• Do you think we will ever be able to confirm life outside our solar system? Why or why not?
• What should we do if we ever verify that there is life outside our solar system? Discuss.