All About Oumuamua

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What we know all about Oumuamua? On October 19, 2017 astronomers saw an object from interstellar space flying through our solar system for the first time. Oumuamua, almost as suddenly as it had appeared, it was out of sight again. Of course, based on what scientists saw they concluded it was an asteroid.

Formally assigned 1I/2017 U1, it was found by Robert Weryk utilizing the Pan-STARRS telescope at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii, on 19 October 2017, 40 days after it passed its nearest point to the Sun. There are a few things we can be certain about. We know it must have come from outside our solar system because it was traveling so dang fast. Oumuamua shot past away from the solar system at nearly 57,000 mph (92,000 km/h). That sort of speed couldn’t have come from the sun’s gravity alone, so it must have been fired at us from somewhere beyond.

We additionally know it’s shape, size, and shading. It’s probably elongated, similar to a stubby cigar, and it’s tumbling through space. We also know it’s around 400 to 800 meters in length and stained dark red, possibly from its interstellar voyage. Everything else about Oumuamua is basically a question mark. Despite everything we don’t know exactly where it originated from, however new research simply narrowed down new candidates as Oumuamua’s potential home.

So, what is it?

All About Oumuamua 2
(Image: © K. Meech et al./ESO)

It was classified as a comet when it was first spotted. But the fact that it did not create a vast puffy coma state that streams out behind as a tail, as comets typically do when they are heated by the sun, led astronomers to second speculation themselves. A few scientists contended that it was a rough space rock or maybe even a new class of interstellar item.

Using data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, astronomers identified four dwarf stars, two that have been identified and two unnamed ones, that Oumuamua might hail from. Scientists aren’t convinced yet, because there’s still so much that’s unknown about it. But the biggest topic of debate around Oumuamua is what the heck this thing actually is.

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Astronomers originally thought it was an asteroid but now they can’t agree because it’s done some things a comet would do, and there are plenty of reasons to believe it could be either. Comets are icy balls of dust, and when they swing past the sun that frozen volatile material turns into gasses that carry away the dust and give them that distinct tail as well as a haze, or coma, around their nucleus. Oumuamua didn’t have that, so scientists concluded it was an asteroid.

Upon a closer examination, they noticed something odd. Oumuamua had accelerated ever so slightly on its journey out of the solar system, more than the Sun’s gravity could account for. The only way they could explain it would be if it was jetting off material, but if it was outgassing volatile material than that would make it more like a comet than an asteroid. So, it could be a comet. But it’s long and tumbling, and if it were a ball of dust instead of a rocky and metallic asteroid, some astronomers believe it’s should have torn itself apart.

An Interstellar Visitor

This jet driven movement nearly makes ‘Oumuamua seem like a spacecraft that originated from another star, took a snappy go through our system, and after that sped away. Indeed, even astronomers have been captivated by this plausibility, and researchers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) tuned in for any potential technological signals spilling from the object not once, but twice.

Avi Loeb along with his co-author Shmuel Bialy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics released his own point of view that ‘Oumuamua was a gossamer-thin LightSail (a kind of propulsion utilizing the sun’s photons) from an advanced technological civilization. His thinking focused on the way that outgassing would have changed the visitor’s rotation frame — an impact that ought to have been easy to recognize however wasn’t seen.

Loeb recommended that ‘Oumuamua could be a defunct bit of space garbage that inadvertently arrived in our system or possibly an exploratory ship sent to look at our region. Few researchers have supported Loeb’s cases, but he contends that rejecting the likelihood of aliens out of hand eliminates useful hypotheses that should be acceptable parts of the rational inquiry.

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The debate probably won’t be settled any time soon. Because of Oumuamua’s speed, we only had a couple of weeks to observe it, and it didn’t help that Hurricane Maria took Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory out of commission. All we can do is sit and wait for the next object like Oumuamua to come by and hope we are lucky enough to spot it. In the meantime, we will just pore over what we know and hope something definitive emerges, or we will have to come up with something of an in-between category to put Oumuamua in.

Even though it was only observable for a couple of months, which left astronomers scrambling for telescope time, SETI managed to scan it to see if it was emitting radio signals. Astronomers probably won’t need to hold up too long to even think about finding more interstellar objects. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in Chile, scheduled to come online early next decade, will scan the night sky in extraordinary detail and could find another ‘Oumuamua or two.


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