Scientists provide a ‘convincing non-space explanation’ for a cigar-shaped UFO that overtook Earth in 2017

When the first known object ever visited Earth’s solar system from outer space in 2017, it was curious that at least one notable astronomer convinced it was an alien ship.

But researchers said Wednesday that they’ve come up with a simple and “convincing non-space” explanation for the interstellar interloper’s strange behavior — though not everyone is convinced.

The object, which has been dubbed ‘Oumuamua – Hawaiian ‘spotlight’ – baffled scientists once it was spotted by an observatory in Hawaii six years ago.

‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar asteroid to be spotted, is shown in an artist’s illustration. It is longer and more varied in brightness than any asteroid forming in our solar system.

Credit ESO/M. Kornmisser


Astronomers have long been searching for comet-like objects entering the solar system from the vastness of interstellar space, but they had never observed anything before. NASA confirmed earlier that Oumuamua was “the first object seen in our solar system known to have originated elsewhere,” but said its origins are unknown.

But ‘Oumuamua did not look like the comets that usually travel from the edges of the solar system. It lacked both a tail and the hazy halo, known as a coma, which consists of superheated dust and gas in the sun’s heat.

It was also a strange elongated shape, not previously seen in comets or asteroids. It was about 100 meters in diameter – the size of a football field – but by some estimates it was 10 times as long as it was wide, shaped like a pancake or a cigar.

Incidentally, light was shining from the body, it seemed to dangle from end to end.

But the strangest thing about it is that once ‘Oumuamua glided around the sun, it accelerated and deviated from its expected path, propelled by a mysterious force on its way out of the solar system.

Scientists were left with four months of seemingly contradictory data to try to make sense of, which led to a host of theories.

Jennifer BergnerMany of the theories “expand the imagination,” an astrophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of a new study told AFP.

Her suggestion is that, wherever ‘Oumuamua came from, it started as a comet-like body of water.

During its interstellar travels, it was exploded by penetrating cosmic rays which converted some of its water into hydrogen gas which became trapped within the body’s core.

As Oumuamua got closer to the sun, she said, heat released trapped hydrogen, acting as a “thrust” that propelled the object down its unexpected trajectory.

Daryl Seligman Cornell University, co-author of A study published in the journal Naturesaid that “Jenny is definitely right about trapped hydrogen.”

“We had all these stupid ideas, like hydrogen icebergs and other crazy things, and that’s just a more general explanation,” he said in a statement.

Marco Micheli, an astronomer at the European Space Agency who was not involved in the research, commented in Nature that the paper “probably offers the first simple and physically realistic explanation of the properties of this object.”

Not everyone is convinced.

Avi Loeb, a lauded theoretical physicist who was chair of astronomy at Harvard University, asserts that the simplest explanation is that “Oumuamua was alien technology — including in his 2021 book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.” “

In his book, Loeb argued that the object was probably debris from advanced alien technology – space junk from several light years away. It may have been a kind of “light sail” propelled by sunlight, a technology humans are currently developing for space exploration.

“It is possible that there will be a lot of space junk or there will be a probe,” he said. CBS Boston in 2021. “We don’t know because we haven’t collected enough data, enough evidence, and I’m just warning everyone to look out for things like that so we can examine it more carefully next time.”

Loeb rejected the new theory, telling AFP that claims of a comet without a tail were “like saying an elephant is a zebra without stripes.”

He pointed to the tail of the large comet seen on 2I/Borisov, the second known visitor from outside the solar system, which was spotted in 2019.

In 2018, Lub said Tony Dokoupil, CBS News correspondent that “there appears to be an additional force” pushing Oumuamua—and “it is not clear what caused this push.”

Roman Rafikov of the University of Cambridge in Britain said he had previously shown that if trapped gas was behind ‘Oumuamua’s acceleration, it would have “significantly” changed its rate of rotation – which it did not.

Rafikov said he was “extremely suspicious” of such theories, adding however that he preferred “an explanation that does not involve aliens or divine forces”.

Bergner suggested that the reason Oumuamua has no tail or coma is that it is much younger than any comet – including 2I/Borisov – that has ever been observed.

But this could change soon.

In the coming years, many more comets, likely from within and outside the solar system, could be spotted by the legacy survey of the Rubin Space and Time Observatory in Chile, whose imaging project is expected to begin in 2025.

Bergner said that if the young comets show signs of releasing trapped hydrogen — and lack a tail and coma — that could help confirm her theory.

When it comes to ideas about extraterrestrial life, she said, it “depends on what standard of proof you need to call aliens.”

“We won’t know for sure what ‘Oumuamua is – we’ve lost our chance,” she said. “But for now, I think we have a compelling non-space explanation here.”

An illustration of a plausible history for ‘Oumuamua shows an origin in its parent system about 0.4 billion years ago; erosion by cosmic rays during their journey out into the solar system; and passages through the solar system, including its closest approach to the sun on September 9, 2017, and its discovery in October 2017. At each point throughout its history, this illustration shows the projected size of ‘Oumuamua, and the ratio between its longest and shortest dimensions.

S. Selkirk/ASU


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