You know the scientists: they give the coolest possible explanation to the public, then act like nerds and publish a paper years later saying something much more mundane. And the same goes for the first object that enters our solar system from a different location. Dubbed “Oumuamua,” scientists are still arguing over what the mysterious object might be, and surprisingly, the coolest possible explanation – an alien spacecraft – is still very much in play.
Oumuamua, or “messenger” in the Native Hawai’i language, was first seen stepping through the lenses of a mighty islander. observatory In 2017. It was obvious from its speed and trajectory that ‘Oumuamua came from outside the solar system, and it was quickly spat out after circling the sun.
This gave scientists a very limited time to study Oumuamua. Immediately, the researchers were delighted to be the first to observe an object outside the solar system making a detour through our vicinity. Initially mute as a comet, it was later classified as a kind of asteroid due to the lack of a coma – the halo of dust, gas and vapor that covers a comet’s core.
But that didn’t seem quite right either. For five years, astronomers have tried to better define Oumuamua based on the limited amount of information available, but have refrained from stating with certainty that it is this or that. Could it be something more? Any smart design job?
A new study published by Chinese researchers in Astronomy and astrophysics Wednesday rules out the possibility that ‘Oumuamua is a ship due to the brightness of its light periods not being bright enough to indicate photon light sail propulsion.
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I’m no scientist, but that seems like a dumb reason to dismiss the spacecraft theory. On the one hand, while we on Earth believe that light sails – sails that capture photons to propel a spacecraft in the same way as a sailboat – are state-of-the-art, science fiction technology is only recently used in terrestrial space explorations, extraterrestrials able to travel between star systems probably have something a little more advanced. Additionally, Oumuamua seemed to be effectively using our sun to exit our solar system as efficiently as it entered it. Could this not be part of its propulsion strategy? Jump from star to star, using its gravity to launch itself to distant places in our galaxy?
And Harvard physicist Avi Loeb agrees. Loeb told the daily beast that the spacecraft theory still holds water. Even the Chinese researchers in the original paper play down the extraterrestrial angle admitted that it could still be some craft:
So, as `Oumuamua crossed the solar system, it should have been really bright in some places – and almost invisible in others. And while `Oumuamua did getting brighter and darker from our vantage point on his strange journey he didn’t get brighter sufficient, said Shangfei. “If it was a luminous sail, the variation in luminosity should be much greater.”
But there is another explanation for `Oumuamua’s relative obscurity, Loeb said – and that is the shape of a possible veil. Chinese scientists speculate that, if `Oumuamua were a luminous sail craft, it would have a flat sail. A flat sail would reflect more light at its brightest times than, say, a concave sail.
But the sail “doesn’t have to be flat,” Loeb explained. He pointed out that he was working with the Breakthrough Initiative, a science start-up founded by Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Borisovich, on umbrella-shaped light sails as part of the initiative’s Starshot space probe project.
The whole argument over the shape of a possible sail might actually be moot. `Oumuamua could be a spaceship “in other forms,” Shangfei conceded. In other words, it might have no sail at all and might instead rely on some other type of propulsion system.
I didn’t think other scientists would have to insist that their colleagues use a little more imagination, but I guess it does happen. All I’m saying is that it might not be a spaceship, but wouldn’t it be so much cooler if it was? Come on guys.
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