Western University Physics adn AstronomyWestern Science

Backtracking Asteroids Arriving from Interstellar Space

Supervisor: Dr. Paul Wiegert

Project Description (Abstract):

The first asteroid seen to arrive from interstellar space, now named 'Oumuamua after the Hawaiian phrase for 'first messenger from afar', was discovered by the PanSTARRS telescope in Hawaii in 2017 (Meech et al 2017) and was approximately 400 meters in length. This asteroid is presumed to have originated in another planetary system but its precise origin in unknown.

Smaller interstellar particles can also arrive at the Earth as meteors, and be observed in the sky as shooting stars, different from the more usual shooting stars that originate within our planetary system by their somewhat larger speeds with respect to the Sun. Understanding the origin of these interstellar meteors requires precise measurements of their speeds and directions as they burn up in our atmosphere, and a careful computation of their past trajectories under the influence of gravity backwards out of our solar system and out into the stars of our solar neighbourhood. 

This project involves constructing a model of the positions of local stars around the Sun, together with measurements of these stars motions through space, that will allow interstellar meteors measured by high-precision optical and radar measurements of possible interstellar meteors measured by the sensors of the Western Meteor Physics Group to be traced back to their origins. The positions and velocities of stars will be obtained from the Hipparchos spacecraft data set, later to be supplemented by new data from the Gaia spacecraft. This model of our local galactic neighbourhood will then be used to trace back the paths of interstellar meteors to assess their point of origin.

Meech et al 2017, A brief visit from a red and extremely elongated asteroids, Nature, https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25020.pdf

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