‘Oumuamua, the interstellar visitor spotted for the first time in 2017 has given us a lot to talk about.
As it turns out, NASA’s powerful Spitzer telescope looked for ‘Oumuamua and couldn’t find it.
However, experts note that doesn’t mean ‘Oumuamua is a spacecraft sent ba distant aliens to ‘probe’ us.
‘Oumuamua’s existence has resulted in countless wild theories thrown around in the last couple of months.
The more experts studied the cigar-shaped object, the more questions arose.
Somewhere along the line, someone threw in the word ‘aliens’, and the internet lost their cool.
Looking for ‘Oumuamua with the Spitzer Telescope
Artist rendering of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.The Spitzer Space Telescope, abbreviated SST, formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility(SIRTF), is an infrared space telescope launched in 2003 and still operating as of 2018.
It is the fourth and final of the NASA Great Observatories program. And while most of its functions are now useless since it used all of its liquid helium to cool its instruments, the SST still has a few cards up its sleeve.
The two shortest-wavelength modules of the IRAC camera are still operable with the same sensitivity as before the cryogen was exhausted, and have continued to be used to the present in the Spitzer Warm Mission.
NASA decided it would be a good idea to point the SST to look for ‘Oumuamua, hoping to put an end to all the controversy surrounding it.
And once the SST turned to look for the mysterious cigar-shaped object, it couldn’t find it.
Not that it disappeared, it’s just that Oumuamua was too small for Spitzer to detect.
Spitzer looks for infrared energy and is able to detect heat signatures, rather than infrared light.
Spitzer can track asteroids and comets using the infrared energy or heat they give off. This data can provide specific information about the object’s size, more than optical observations of reflected sunlight alone would.
“‘Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect when it looked more than two months after the object’s closest approach to Earth in early September. However, the “non-detection” puts a new limit on how large the strange object can be.”
“The results are reported in a new study published today in the Astronomical Journal and co-authored by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California”, explains NASA in a statement.
“‘Oumuamua has been full of surprises from day one, so we were eager to see what Spitzer might show,” explained David Trilling, lead author on the new study and a professor of astronomy at Northern Arizona University.
“The fact that ‘Oumuamua was too small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result.”
The new study argues that ‘Oumuamua may be up to 10 times more reflective than the comets that reside in our solar system which comes as a surprise according to the paper’s authors.
‘Oumuamua’s smaller size supports the idea that the object accelerated faster away from the sun thanks to outgassing, which could have acted as ‘thrusters’ propelling the object and causing it to accelerate.