After its initial discovery, scientists assumed 'Oumuamua was a comet-small icy bodies which warm and release gas in the form of a tail when they pass close to the Sun.
The Royal Astronomical Society in the United Kingdom announced on March 19, 2018 that the object called 1I/2017 ('Oumuamua) - the first confirmed asteroid known to have journeyed here from outside our solar system - may have come from from a binary star system, or two stars orbiting a common center of gravity. In the paper, Alan Jackson, from the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and his colleagues propose that 'Oumuamua very likely came from a binary star system in which two stars orbit a common center.
They've also determined the type of binary star system that it came from.
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Now, a new study-published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society-has shed light on this issue.
A visitor from space recognized as the main affirmed interstellar space rock may have gone from a binary star system, astronomers accept. But the odds are good that it was born into a binary system that harbors at least one big, hot star, according to the new study.
Astronomers testing how efficiently binary systems can eject bodies through gravitational interactions found that rocky objects like 'Oumuamua are much more likely to originate in binary systems and that ejected rocky bodies should be just as common as brighter, easier-to-spot icy comets. However, it became clear as it passed close to the star that this was not the case, indicating that the object was, in fact, a rocky interstellar asteroid.
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'Oumuamua made its closest approach to Earth - about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) - on October 14.
Researchers were also pretty sure it was from outside our solar system based on its trajectory and high speed.
Named after the Hawaiian word for "scout", 'Oumuamua stopped by briefly in 2017 as it entered our solar system, took a quick spin around the sun, and then carried on its merry way out into the abyss beyond our reach.
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For planetary scientists like Jackson, being able to observe objects like 'Oumuamua may yield important clues about how planet formation works in other star systems. It is also likely that the space rock was ejected from its home system around the time that planets were forming, the scientists propose in the study. But another large object that can easily eject something could be another star. In the meantime, check out the excellent animation below, which shows 'Oumuamua's path through our solar system, over the few months last fall during which it was visiting us.