A mysterious interstellar object that visited the Solar System in 2017 it baffled astrophysicists and sparked all kinds of theories, including that it was an alien spacecraft.
Most likely it was a kind of unusual comet, explains a thesis published this Wednesday in the journal Nature.
oumuamuawhich means “scout” in Hawaiian, was detected by an observatory in that US state in October 2017.
Its characteristics were extraordinary: Oumuamua did not resemble known comets, it did not have a tail or a halo, both formed by dust and gas that react to the sun’s rays. Besides its shape was reminiscent of a cigar.
Oumuamua had a diameter of about 100 meters, the size of a soccer field, but its length was up to 10 times greater, which gave it its strange shape.
The intermittent luminosity of the object confirmed that it turned on itself.
After reaching the point closest to the Sun in its trajectory, and its greatest speed due to the influence of gravity, it once again set out towards interstellar space. But it kept accelerating as if propelled by some mysterious force.
The data collected for four months around that mysterious visit fueled all kinds of speculation.
For Jennifer Bergner, an expert in astrochemistry at the University of Berkeley, co-author of the new study, the theories that evoked an extraterrestrial visit “go beyond imagination.”
In his opinion, Oumuamua was an object particularly rich in waterwhich throughout its trajectory through the confines of the Universe was modified due to the impact of cosmic rays, which transformed that water into hydrogen, trapped in the rock of the object. “As Oumuamua got closer to the Sun, the heat released the hydrogen, which acted like an unexpected ‘reactor’, changing its trajectory and speeding it up.”
His colleague and co-author of the study published in NatureDarryl Seligman of Cornell University, defends Bergner’s thesis.
“All these stupid ideas about hydrogen icebergs and other crazy things came up, while this is the simplest explanation,” said this expert in a statement.
An opinion shared by Marco Micheli, an astronomer at the European Space Agency, for whom this study “provides perhaps the simplest and most physically realistic explanation of the peculiarities of this object.”
Quite a contrast to the theory of a respected astrophysicist from Harvard University, Avi Loeb, who in 2021 published a book entitled “Extraterrestrial: the first sign of intelligent life beyond Earth.”
Loeb again criticized this new advanced theory in Naturein a statement to the news agency AFP.
Explaining that a comet does not have a tail is “like saying that an elephant is a zebra without stripes.”
A key observatory in Chile
In 2019 the astronomer community detected another object that came from beyond the Solar System, Comet 2I/Borisovwhich had a long tail.
Bergner replies that Oumuamua did not have a tail because it was too small, much smaller than 2I/Borisov.
An observatory that is being built on Cerro Pachón, in northern Chile (Vera C. Rubin Observatory), could be decisive in unraveling this mystery.
When it begins to scan the sky, around 2025, this observatory should be able to detect other small comets.
If those comets emit hydrogen, without having a tail, that would confirm the new theory, Bergner says.
“We will never know for sure what Oumuamua was: we lost that opportunity”, accepts this scientist. “But at the moment we have a convincing explanation, without being extraterrestrial,” she says.
(By Daniel Lawler – AFP)
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