November 24, 2017
Exciting Project Lyra Initiative Aims To Send Probe To Interstellar Asteroid 'Oumuamua For Closer Study

The asteroid known as 'Oumuamua is the very first interstellar asteroid that has ever been observed by scientists which makes it a very special object indeed, and now a new initiative known as Project Lyra will attempt to build a probe to send to the asteroid so that astronomers can study it in much greater, and closer, detail.

Interstellar 'Oumuamua is not just unique because it arrived on our doorstep from outside of the solar system. Its appearance has also attracted great attention from both within and outside the scientific community owing to the fact that the cigar-shaped asteroid is so great in length when compared with its width.

In fact, it is actually 10 times longer than its width, which also makes it the first asteroid of this description that has ever been spotted in our solar system. Astronomers note that up until now, the longest asteroids that have been spotted have never exceeded the ratio of 3:1, according to NASA.

'Oumuamua is also extremely rocky and is believed to be full of many metals and dazzles with its glowing red appearance due to the millions of years worth of irradiation that have come from the interstellar object basking in cosmic rays. The uniqueness of this asteroid is such that a group of engineers and scientists from the Initiative of Interstellar Studies have created Project Lyra to learn more about this object.

As ScienceAlert reported, the new Project Lyra initiative noted that the technological challenge of attempting to reach the interstellar asteroid is one which presents numerous obstacles, which only serves to make it all the more interesting to scientists.
"Besides the scientific interest of getting data back from the object, the challenge to reach the object could stretch the current technological envelope of space exploration. Hence, Project Lyra is not only interesting from a scientific point of view but also in terms of the technological challenge it presents."
The numerous obstacles which will make the attempt to reach 'Oumuamua all the more daunting include the travel time that it will take for the probe to reach the interstellar asteroid, the velocity of said probe, the velocity of the asteroid and also its characteristic energy.

There is also the fact that calculations based on the incoming speed of 'Oumuamua were based upon its speed of 95,000 kilometers per hour. While it will eventually reach this speed again, it won't be for at least another three or so years. Its velocity is very important as scientists are currently trying to ascertain just how long it would take for a probe to reach the asteroid if and when the probe launched in between five years and possibly up to 30.

Thankfully, time is on the side of Project Lyra and with it will come more advanced technologies. There are already propulsion technologies such as solar sails that are well underway and being worked on and creating probes with much greater speeds is also certainly feasible and may very well be accomplished in the just the right amount of time that scientists will eventually be able to catch up with the interstellar asteroid.

If all else fails, at the very least scientists will eventually have the right equipment to pounce on the very next object like 'Oumuamua when it appears. In the abstract of a paper discussing Project Lyra, scientists discussed other possible methods of reaching the asteroid if the right technology was currently in place.

"An important result of our analysis is that the value of a laser beaming infrastructure from the Breakthrough Initiatives' Project Starshot would be the flexibility to react quickly to future unexpected events, such as sending a swarm of probes to the next object like 1I/'Oumuamua. With such an infrastructure in place today, intercept missions could have reached 1I/'Oumuamua within a year."
Even though reaching the interstellar asteroid 'Oumuamua presents many interesting technical challenges, scientists currently working on the Project Lyria initiative fully believe that it will one day be possible to either reach this particular asteroid or the next one that happens to pass by our solar system for a visit.

[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]