Receive the newsletter from Mach.
By Corey S. Powell
Astronomers have cataloged eight planets, 6,500 comets and more than 525,000 asteroids, but Oumuamua is unique. The elongated space object, which was pushed past the sun in 201
It is believed that Oumuamua is an exotic species of comet or asteroid, but it is such a curiosity that some astronomers have speculated it could be an extraterrestrial spacecraft.
How was Oumuamua discovered?
Robert Weryck, a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Astronomy at the University of Hawaii, found Oumuamua by accident. On October 19, 2017, he used the Pan-STARRS telescope on Maui to scan the sky for near-Earth asteroids. At first he thought he had found one. "But then I could find her in two pictures of the previous night," he said, "and when I combined them together, orbit made no sense."
After Weryck and his colleague Marco had collected additional observations, Micheli concluded that the trajectory of the object suggested that it had originated "from outside our solar system."
Astronomers have been looking for such a visitor for decades. "What is most surprising is that we have never gone through interstellar objects before," said Karen Meech, another astronomer at the institute, one week after the discovery with NASA.
What about this name?
The object was officially cataloged as 1I / 2017 U1 ("1" for the first and "I" for interstellar), but such a historical find clearly needed something more memorable.
"Everyone agreed that we wanted a Hawaiian name," Weryck said. "We contacted the Hawaiian Studies Group at the University of Hawaii. We told them about the object, how we came to find it, and they suggested Oumuamua. "The name, which means that" the first boy scout is from afar ", is pronounced as" oh moo ah moo ah ".
What does Oumuamua do
Imagine a cigar floating through space and you have the right idea.
Oumuamua was too far away from the Earth to be more than a point through the largest telescopes. The way in which the light brightened and then dimmed indicated an expansive shape – at least seven times as long as it was wide, Meech estimated, or about 3,000 feet by 400 feet. The object crashes during the process and completes a full flip every eight hours.
Despite the many realistic-looking illustrations you've seen from Oumuamua, astronomers have no idea how close they look – though there's evidence of a reddish surface.
What is Oumuamua?
No one knows that exactly, though its color resembles that of some comets made of rock and ice. Oumuamua, after passing through the sun, accelerated as if he were being pushed from his surface by a "gassing" of frozen material, which seemed to confirm his identity as a comet. However, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope observations showed no comet-like tail of gas or dust and bewildering astronomers.
"It must be a comet to explain the acceleration," Meech said, adding that it could be different from the comets we know when it was born around another star. In addition, during his long journey through space, Oumuamua would have been blasted with radiation and dust that might have formed a crust that would have retained most of the frozen gases inside. Such a rough journey could also be responsible for its long, thin shape.
Where did Oumuamua come from? Where are we going?
Oumuamua came from the direction of the constellation Lyra and now goes to the constellation Pegasus. His path and movement obviously do not match those of a nearby star. Tracing his movements, a team of astronomers discovered that a million years ago, Oumuamua was near a small red star called HIP 3757, indicating that this was the possible starting point.
The gravitational pull of the sun slows Oumuamua. but not enough to hold on to it. It will eventually settle at its cruising speed of 59,000 miles per second (16 miles per second) and wander between the stars of the Milky Way galaxy.
Could it really be an alien ship?
Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb gave this controversial idea a big boost with a scientific paper arguing that Oumuamua's unusual shape and its surprising acceleration suggest it could be a light sail – a sunshine-driven one Spaceship – of aliens. Loeb does not say it's an alien craft, only scientists should consider the possibility.
The paper was rejected by many astronomers, but it inspired some researchers to listen (meaninglessly) to radio transmissions from Oumuamua. This suggests that the only way to find out what is certain is to study it up close.
Against this backdrop, a group of aerospace engineers developed the Lyra project, a proposal for an ultra-fast spacecraft that could catch up. Oumuamua The authors suggest that such a mission would be possible by sending a large rocket around the sun on a skid orbit ,
Is Oumuama really unique?
Although Oumuamua is the first object of its kind, astronomers have ever been observed. I think it could give trillions of others. It is possible that they passed us all the time, but are so fast and powerless that we have missed them so far.
The large Synoptic Surveying Telescope in Chile, which scans the sky continuously at 27 feet. Light collecting mirrors could detect more of such objects when it goes into operation in 2022. If it is no longer unique, astronomers should finally get a clearer picture of what Oumuamua really is.
You Want to Know More About Astronomy
FOLLOW NBC NEWS MAKE UP TWITTER FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM.