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Mystery behind unidentified object thought to be a spacecraft that flew by Earth has been solved

Mystery behind unidentified object thought to be a spacecraft that flew by Earth has been solved

A new study appears to explain what happened with Oumuamua

It appears that what was once an unidentified flying object, that some claimed could be a spaceship, has finally been identified.

Ever since October 2017, there has been a whole lot of interest in and controversy surrounding what was dubbed Oumuamua – or the first interstellar object to ever be discovered in our solar system.

And since there was no definitive answer as to what it could be at the time, this allowed many to speculate that it could in fact be some sort of alien artefact, instead of a comet or some other much more natural entity.

However, a pair of scientists have now presented what they deem to be a robust explanation for why Oumuamua had behaved so bizarrely when it passed by Planet Earth.

Oumuamua has been a mystery for years now.
Matteo Omied/Alamy Stock Photo

According to the study, which was published on Wednesday (22 March) in Nature, this new research suggests that because of how many years this object had been in interstellar space, it was left with an abundance of hydrogen on a molecular level that then turned into gas when sunlight entered the equation.

Jennifer Bergner, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Berkeley who led the study, said: “Given the information that we have, I think that this is our best hope of explaining Oumuamua without having to resort to more sensational ideas, or, as we might say in the science community, ‘fine-tuned’ ideas.

“We're excited about this idea because it seems very generic, and a natural explanation for a process that should be happening anyways,” she continued.

Bergner then added: “It was a puzzle of why you would see something that, in some regards, behaves and looks like a comet, but you don't see any of the normal suspects to explain its dynamical behavior.”

Could this clarify the unexplained and unidentified object?
Guillermo Ferla/Unsplash

This natural explanation doesn’t appear to convince Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, however, who instead believes that the object was actually some kind of alien artefact.

Loeb – who recently worked in tandem with the Pentagon’s UFO investigation department – has defended his theory saying that the latest analysis does not disprove his ideas.

So, why did people believe that it was an alien spacecraft in the first place?

Well, a lack of dust tail or coma that you usually see when comets accelerate was the first sign that it was something a bit different to the norm. It was also smaller than other comets and was a good distance away from the sun.

In addition to this, it was an odd shape too.

“Oumuamua would require the complete evaporation of its hydrogen,” Loeb said.

“This is unreasonable because it is impossible for all the hydrogen trapped deep in the object's interior to leave to the surface without releasing the oxygen atoms with them along the way."

Many theories have surrounded Oumuamua and its existence.

“Keep in mind that Oumuamua had the size of a football field (100-200 meters). How can all the hydrogen from a depth of tens of meters reach the surface while leaving an object of pure oxygen behind? This is implausible.”

Oumuamua also not having a cometary tail is “like saying an elephant might be a zebra without stripes,” he also added.

All we know is that more advanced next-generation telescopes, like the one in Chile’s Vera Rubin Observatory, mean we will probably discover even more interstellar objects in coming years.

And in turn, being able to observe these objects, can teach us a lot about the wider universe that we inhabit.

Who do you agree with?

Featured Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/Gemini Observatory/AURA/NSF

Topics: Science, Space, Technology