The oddly shaped, rapidly moving traveler had been ejected from its home system and was perhaps a comet or asteroid, or even a chunk of a shredded planet.
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One pair of scientists even suggested that it could be an alien spacecraft. The scientists concluded that aliens are not needed to explain 'Oumuamua, as a natural explanation satisfies the observations.
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Their study was published today July 1 in the journal Nature Astronomy. Their observations revealed that the object was small and red in color. The object also seemed to have a cigar-like shape and an unusual spin, as well as a strange change in direction that has been a challenge to explain. Jets of gas could gently push the traveler, providing a potential explanation for its change in spin and direction. But astronomers didn't spot any sign of material shooting out of the elongated object that would match current models of cometary jets.
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According to Raymond, that theory may or may not be correct, but it "clearly shows that comet-like outgassing can explain 'Oumuamua's nongravitational acceleration and spin at the same time. It's also possible that pressure from solar radiation could have affected the spin. If 'Oumuamua was only a few millimeters thick, it could work as a lightsail , pushed along by starlight.
Oumuamua is weird but isn't an alien ship, study finds
But if the interstellar traveler was an alien star sail, it shouldn't have a spin, instead keeping one face constantly pointing towards the sun. The scientists who suggested that the object could be an alien spacecraft also argued that the lack of similar natural objects in space suggests that 'Oumuamua should never have been discovered, and may therefore have been deliberately aimed at Earth.
Similarly, its unlikely orbit sent it closer to Earth than any other planet, a so-called special orbit that suggests it may have sought us out. Knight and his colleagues argued that, while simulations suggest how much material — roughly one Earth-mass — gets ejected during planet formation, the true amount of debris ejected during these events remains unknown: It could be a few large objects or many smaller ones.
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Some estimates suggest that roughly two extrasolar objects pass by the sun each year. Knight also pointed out that small, faint objects like 'Oumuamua should constantly breeze through the solar system but are often too faint to be visible. These items can only be spotted when they are near our planet.
What about the strange elongated shape of the visitor? But its flattened, elongated shape and the way it accelerated on its way through the solar system set it apart from conventional asteroids and comets.
Now a pair of Harvard researchers are raising the possibility that 'Oumuamua is an alien spacecraft. As they say in a paper to be published Nov. The researchers aren't claiming outright that aliens sent 'Oumuamua. But after a careful mathematical analysis of the way the interstellar object sped up as it shot past the sun, they say 'Oumuamua could be a spacecraft pushed through space by light falling on its surface — or, as they put it in the paper, a "lightsail of artificial origin. If 'Oumuamua is a lightsail, he added, one possibility is that it was floating in interstellar space when our solar system ran into it, "like a ship bumping into a buoy on the surface of the ocean.
Scientists conclude cigar-shaped interstellar object not an alien spaceship - Reuters
Earthlings have launched simple solar-powered lightsails of our own, and Loeb is an adviser to Breakthrough Starshot, an initiative that plans to send a fleet of tiny laser-powered lightsail craft to the nearest star system. But the technology is in its infancy — at least here on Earth.
Loeb and his collaborator, Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, acknowledge that the alien spacecraft scenario is an "exotic" one. And perhaps not surprisingly, other space scientists have strong doubts about it. Bailer-Jones, who earlier this year led a group of scientists who identified four dwarf stars as likely origin points for 'Oumuamua , raised questions in particular about the object's tumbling motion.