Last year, astronomers were surprised when they spotted, for the first time ever, an interstellar object cruising through our solar system.
While such objects may have passed through our solar system countless times in the distant past, the discovery of the strange, elongated object dubbed as ‘Oumuamua was a first time for astronomers.
(1)The mystery object was discovered in 2017 at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy by Robert Weryk, thanks to observations made by the Pan-STARRS telescope.
“I think it’s a remnant from another solar system. It’s just something that happened to run into us, and we were very lucky to have been operating the telescope that night and looking in that direction,” Weryk said.
(2)While we have come to know it popularly as ‘Oumuamua –which means ‘scout’ in Hawaiian–the objects true designation is 1I/ʻOumuamua or 1I/2017 U1.
(3)The strange object was initially thought to be a comet, (classified as C / 2017 U1), but when astronomers observed it lacked activity it was reclassified as an asteroid (A / 2017 U1) a week later.
(4)Once it was unambiguously identified as originating from outside the Solar System, a new designation was created for the object by astronomers: I, which stands for Interstellar object.
The more astronomers studied the object, the more mysterious it got.
(5)We know that Oumuamua isn’t from our solar system as astronomers have found that due to its high eccentricity, together with its direction of provenance indicates that it has never been gravitationally linked to the solar system and, presumably, is an interstellar object.
(6)Extrapolating the orbit and going backward, astronomers have estimated that the strange object passed approximately 0.161 AU (24 100 000 km) from Earth on October 14, 2017.
(7)The object is small and distant and has already faded to apparent magnitude 21.
(8)One hundred years ago, the object was approximately 559 AU (84 billion km) from the Sun and traveled 26 km / s with respect to it.
(9)The object continued to accelerate until it crossed the perihelion, where it reached a maximum of 87.7 km / s.
(10)Then it slowed down.
(11)By the date astronomers on Earth spotted it, the object had decelerated to 46 km / s and experts estimated at the time of its discovery that it will continue to decelerate until it reaches a final hyperbolic excess speed of 26 km / s.
(12)However, as the mystery object moved further away from the sun, something totally unexpected happened: ‘Oumuamua started accelerating faster than expected, and changed its trajectory.
(13)This caused a number of scientists to doubt the true nature of the object, and some even rushed to shout out loud: its E.T.
A number of scientific studies have been published describing the weird nature of the object.
(14)One of the latest studies published by Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department and Shmuel Bialy, also of Harvard suggests the object may be some kind of alien spaceship powered by ‘solar sails’.
“Currently, there is an unexplained phenomenon, namely, the excess acceleration of Oumuamua, which we show may be explained by the force of radiation pressure from the sun,” co-author and Harvard astrophysicist Shmuel Bialy explained.
“However, this requires the body to have a very large surface and be very thin, which is not encountered in nature,” added Bialy.
(15)Given the strange characteristics and nature of ‘Oumuamua, the Harvard team hypothesize that Oumuamua “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilization.”
(16)Obviously, saying something like ‘it could be aliens’, without providing extensive evidence caused a number of astronomers to disprove the theory set forth by Avi Loeb and Shmuel Bialy.
Katie Mack, a well-known astrophysicist at North Carolina State, was one such astronomer.
“The thing you have to understand is: scientists are perfectly happy to publish an outlandish idea if it has even the tiniest sliver of a chance of not being wrong,” she explained on Twitter.
(17)The mystery object is 1,300 feet long (400 meters) long.
(18)Astronomers estimate it is around 130 feet wide.
(19)In fact, astronomers indicate that the object’s aspect ratio is much greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date.
(20)SETI, the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence, studied the object in search for radio signals. However, they’ve failed to discover anything coming from the object.