You know scientists: they give the best possible explanation to the public and then act like nerds and publish an article years later saying something much more mundane. And the same thing happens with the first object that enters our solar system from a different place. Dubbed “Oumuamua,” scientists are still arguing over what the mystery object could be, and surprisingly, the coolest possible explanation – an alien spacecraft – is still up for grabs.
Oumuamua, or “messenger” in the native Hawaiian language, was first seen passing through the lenses of a high-powered island-based aircraft. observatory Yoin 2017. It was obvious from its speed and trajectory that Oumuamua was coming from outside the solar system, and soon after it was spat out again after revolving around the sun.
This gave scientists a very limited amount of time to study Oumuamua. Immediately, researchers were excited to be the first to observe an object from outside the solar system drifting through our neighborhood. Initially considered 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 nucleus.
But that didn’t seem quite right either. For five years, astronomers have been trying to better define Oumuamua based on the limited amount of information available, but have been unable to state with certainty whether it is this or that. Could it be something else? An intelligently designed ship of some sort?
A new study published by Chinese researchers in astronomy and astrophysics Wednesday rules out the possibility that Oumuamua is a ship because the luminosity of its bright periods is not bright enough to indicate photon light sail propulsion.
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I’m not a scientist, but it seems like a silly reason to dismiss the spaceship theory. For one thing, while we on Earth think of light sails – sails that capture photons to propel spacecraft in a similar way to a sailboat – are cutting-edge science fiction technology that is recently being employed in space exploration bound for the Earth, aliens capable of traveling between star systems probably have something a bit more advanced. Furthermore, Oumuamua seemed to efficiently use our sun to rocket out of our solar system just as efficiently as it came in. Couldn’t that be part of his propulsion strategy? To jump from star to star, using its gravity to slingshot to distant parts of our galaxy?
And Harvard physicist Avi Loeb agrees. Loeb told the daily beast that the spaceship theory still holds. Even the Chinese researchers from the original article downplay the alien angle admitted that it could still be a ship of some sort:
So when ‘Oumuamua traversed the solar system, it should have been really bright at some points, and almost invisible at others. And while `Oumuamua made it gets brighter and darker from our point of view on its strange journey, it didn’t get bright enoughShanghai said. “If it were a light candle, the variation in brightness would have to be much larger.”
But there’s another explanation for ‘Oumuamua’s relative darkness, Loeb said, and that’s the shape of a possible sail. Chinese scientists surmise that if ‘Oumuamua were a dinghy, she would have a flat sail. A flat candle would reflect more light at its brightest than, say, a concave candle.
But the sail “doesn’t have to be flat,” Loeb explained. He noted that he has been working with the Breakthrough Initiative, a scientific startup 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 about the shape of a possible candle could actually be moot. `Oumuamua could be a spacecraft “in other forms”, Shangfei admitted. In other words, it may not have a sail and could 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 suppose it happens. All I’m saying is that it may not be a spaceship, but wouldn’t it be so much cooler if it was? Come on guys.
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