Enlarge / An illustration of a New Horizons spacecraft atop an illustration of ‘Oumuamua. Nothing is to scale. (credit: European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser )
A little more than a month ago, an interstellar visitor now known as ‘Oumuamua passed within 24 million kilometers of Earth.
It is now moving rapidly away from our planet at a velocity of approximately 26km/s.
That is considerably faster than, say, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which is hurtling beyond the Solar System at a velocity of 17km/s.
The first interstellar object is doubly intriguing because humans have never been able to study something from beyond the Solar System up close. Moreover, recent observations have shown that ‘Oumuamua has a reddish color, astronomers say, and unexpected oblong shape, like that of a giant, 400-meter-long cigar.
Already, the object is fading from view, and we will never see it again as it zooms away.
But what if we could? NASA is building what will be the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System. Would it be capable of launching a small probe to catch ‘Oumuamua? Do we have any technology that can catch this interstellar interloper?
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