SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket Could Explore Interstellar Asteroid 'Oumuamua
Image credit: ESO Illustration
'Oumuamua, the first interstellar asteroid ever discovered, may be within our reach.
Hurtling through our solar system at more than 55,000 miles per hour, the cigar-shaped object is about a quarter of a mile in length, and is believed to be made of rock that isn't of our Sun or its orbiting bodies. It's moving too fast for Earth technology to chase, but according to one organization, there's other ways to touch base with the alien asteroid.
"At present, the frequency of similar objects entering the solar system is poorly constrained. As 1I/'Oumuamua is the nearest macroscopic sample of interstellar material, likely with an isotopic signature distinct from any other object in our solar system, the scientific returns from sampling the object are hard to understate," said Andreas M. Hein of UK-based Initiative for Interstellar Studies (I4IS).
Further noting that "detailed study of interstellar materials at interstellar distances are likely decades away," the group suggests it's time for humanity to launch a spacecraft to it to undertake close-range observations.
I4IS recognizes that not only would a craft launched from Earth be unable to catch 'Oumuamua, but as the business of space missions go, it would probably be at least five to 10 years before the possibility of sending something up and away, much less actually getting in touch with the speeding visitor.
However, Elon Musk's SpaceX company could catch up to Oumuamua much quicker.
The SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which is able to refuel in space, could do the trick—and it could build some needed speed by flying past Jupiter and using its gravity to build momentum.
I4IS suggests a 2025 launch could put BFR in touch with Oumuamua by 2051.
"The discovery of the first interstellar object entering our solar system is an exciting event and could be the chance of a lifetime or several lifetimes," Hein added.