When the cigar-shaped interstellar object was discovered in October 2017, it quickly grabbed the spotlight. Scientists and conspiracy theorists have been debating its origin since it was discovered. Some claims went so far as to suggest that the mysterious object is an alien probe. However, a new study indicates there is nothing special about the object after all.
Oumuamua was believed to be a comet or an asteroid or both, although a few suggested it was a spacecraft from extraterrestrial civilization. The object is now approaching Saturn’s orbit, and it will be many years before it leaves our solar system.
A new study conducted by John Forbes and Abraham Loeb of the astronomy department at Harvard University sheds light on how ordinary the cigar-shaped interstellar object actually is. The team found many other objects similar to Oumuamua floating around the Milky Way. It seems humanity just hasn’t been paying enough attention to them. They published their findings in a study which is now available on the preprint website arXiv.
The cigar-shaped interstellar object has been in our solar system for a while now, and at its closest position to the sun, it was only approximately 0.26 astronomical units away, or 24. 2 million miles.
According to Space.com, the Harvard scientists are not the only ones who believe the object is ordinary. Greg Laughlin, an astronomer from Yale University, believes there are trillions of objects like Oumuamua floating around our galaxy.
The name “Oumuamua” was inspired by the Hawaiian word for “pathfinder” or “scout.” Scientists discovered it using the PanSTARRS1 telescope in October 2017. Those who saw it first noticed an unknown spot of light coming from a strange direction at a fast speed.
Despite the findings released in his latest paper on the cigar-shaped interstellar object, Loeb co-authored another paper which suggested Oumuamua could be a “lightsail of artificial origin” from another intelligent civilization.
“Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” Loeb and fellow researcher Shmuel Bialy wrote in the earlier paper.
That paper was criticized by Canadian physicist and astronomer Robert Weryk, who discovered the cigar-shaped interstellar object. In an interview with CBC, Weryk said the object is likely “a remnant from another solar system.”
“It’s just something that happened to run into us, and we were very lucky to have been operating the telescope that night and looking in that direction,” he told the Canadian news outlet.
Amid the intense debate over Oumuamua’s true origin, Forbes and Loeb conclude that there’s a chance we may never find out what it is or where it came from.
“As the debate continues between asteroidal and cometary interpretations, it remains unclear if any firm conclusions can be reached as ‘Oumuamua itself has rapidly faded from view on its way out of the Solar System,” the authors wrote in their paper.
Oumuamua is approaching Saturn’s orbit at the moment, and it’s expected to reach Neptune’s orbit in 2022. For now, it seems like the object will simply be a mysterious guest in our solar system until it leaves in about 20,000 years.