Last year, astronomers caught sight of an odd, oblong object from somewhere beyond our solar system making a close pass by the sun before turning left and heading back out to deep space. Now, a team of researchers think they've narrowed down the home of the interstellar visitor named 'Oumuamua to four most likely star systems.
As it left the sun and Earth in its rear-view mirror last year, scientists tried to study 'Oumuamua as much as possible, even checking it for alien radio signals. (It's dead quiet.) They found that it's likely a skyscraper-size asteroid from another part of the galaxy.
A team led by Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany has combined data gathered on 'Oumuamua with data from the European Space Agency's Gaia space observatory to trace the alien asteroid back to a few possible origins.
Gaia has recorded a massive amount of precise information about the positions and movement of millions of stars.
By conducting some complex analysis, the researchers traced the path of 'Oumuamua back millions of years to four dwarf stars considered as candidates for the weird object's home star.
One of the stars is the red dwarf HIP 3757, which is around 80 light-years from Earth. A more likely candidate is the sun-like star HD 292249. Two other candidate stars have been cataloged, but otherwise little is known about them.
In a paper detailing the research that'll be published in the Astronomical Journal, the authors note there are likely a number of other stars out there that could have once been 'Oumuamua's home. One probable scenario is that it was ejected from its original star system during the chaotic phase of planet formation when lots of small objects fly around and interact with each other.
The paper notes that the next release of data from Gaia will provide movement data on many more stars, including some that could have once hosted 'Oumuamua.
"The search for 'Oumuamua's home continues," it concludes.
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