A mysterious cigar-shaped object, nicknamed “Oumuamua”, has been spotted tumbling through our solar system last year.
The ‘messenger that reaches out from the distant past’ was first discovered in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii and it sped through our Solar System so fast that scientists barely had time to glimpse it.
Oumuamua’s Unusual Features
Since its discovery, scientists have been at odds to explain its unusual features and precise origins. Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar, at the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics said that Oumuamua was inferred to have an elongated shape, unobserved in any known asteroid or comet.
“What is clear is that it can’t have a shape that is nearly spherical — like normal rocks we know,”
The most unusual feature of the object is its “excess acceleration”, or its unexpected boost in speed as it travelled through our solar system. Early on, the object was thought to be a comet due to this change in speed, but observers later decided it was obviously an asteroid. The scientific community at large has changed its mind a few times since then, and at this point, it’s unclear what the majority of astronomers actually believe.
Comets, in particular, are known to speed-up due to a process known as “outgassing,” in which the sun heats up the surface of the icy comet, releasing melted gas. But ‘Oumuamua didn’t have a “coma,” the atmosphere and dust that surrounds comets as they melt.
Researchers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics deconstructs the nature of the mysterious object by focusing on its strange speed changes and suggested that the elongated dark-red object, which is 10 times as long as it is wide and travelling at speeds of 196,000 mph, might have an “artificial origin.”
“Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that Oumuamua is a light sail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” the paper explains
Loeb said the mystery of Oumuamua’s origin remains. “It is unclear whether it might be a defunct technological debris or whether it is functional.