Mysterious interstellar asteroid may have been created by ‘natural phenomena’

In this artist’s concept, the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua’ is depicted as a cigar-shaped body. (ESO/M. Kornmesser /SWNS.COM)

Astronomers have been puzzling over the origins of ‘Oumuamua’ since it was first spotted in October 2017.

The cigar-shaped asteroid is the first known object to pass through out solar system from another galaxy.

What makes it so strange is that it displays characteristics that would normally be associated with both a comet and an asteroid.

Oumuamua (Hawaiian for Scout) spins like a coke bottle and accelerates like a comet, but without the gas jets often seen trailing them. Its movements have puzzled experts leading some to suggest it is an alien spacecraft sent to examine our solar system.

While most experts dispute that theory, there’s still a lot that can’t be explained about Oumuamua, according to a new study of the object.

This Nasa graphic shows the distinctive tumbling motion of Oumuamua (Nasa)

The study’s co-author, Dr Matthew Knight, an associate research scientist in the University of Maryland Department of Astronomy, said: ‘The alien spacecraft hypothesis is a fun idea, but our analysis suggests there is a whole host of natural phenomena that could explain it.

‘We have never seen anything like Oumuamua in our solar system. It’s really a mystery still. But our preference is to stick with analogues we know, unless or until we find something unique.’

Professional stargazer, Dr Robert Weryk, first spotted the interstellar traveller in October, 2017 at the University of Hawaii’s Haleakala Observatory. Researchers had just weeks to collect as much data as possible before the strange visitor travelled beyond the reach of Earth’s telescopes.

It may have been ejected by a gas giant similar to Jupiter (Getty Images/Science Photo Libra)

The object is now out of sight but could take up to 20,000 years before it leaves our solar system onto its next destination. Dr Knight worked with astronomer Dr Alan Fitzsimmons from Queen’s University Belfast and 14 experts from the US and Europe.

They analysed data from the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona from their base at the International Space Science Institute in Bern, Switzerland.

Scientists think it could have entered our solar system after being ejected by a gas giant planet orbiting another star. And researchers said Jupiter may have created some of its own interstellar travellers by sneaking some of its icy objects through the sun’s gravity field and into foreign solar systems.

They suspect Oumuamua could be the first of many visitors from distant solar systems. They are awaiting fresh data from the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in 2022 which could reveal more.

Oumuamua was first spotted in October 2017 (AFP)

Dr Knight said: “In the next 10 years, we expect to begin seeing more objects like Oumuamua. The LSST will be leaps and bounds beyond any other survey we have in terms of capability to find small interstellar visitors. We may start seeing a new object every year. That’s when we’ll start to know whether Oumuamua is weird, or common.

‘If we find 10-20 of these things and Oumuamua still looks unusual, we’ll have to reexamine our explanations.’

This latest study was published in The Astrophysical Journal.


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