It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an interstellar space ship! It’s …
Astronomers and SETI researchers studying Oumuamua, the mysterious cigar-shaped interstellar object that looped tightly around the Sun recently, think they’ve solved the mystery of what it really is. Ladies and gentlemen, Oumuamua is a …
Not so fast. We may in danger just talking or reading about Oumuamua. That’s a warning put forth by Nick Pope, former head of Britain’s Ministry of Defence UFO project, in SunOnline.
“If this ship is an alien probe, it's possible that our scans will awake the intelligence inside.”
Pope is referring to the Breakthrough Listen project led by Stephen Hawking which has been using high-tech scanners to listen for signs of life or any kind of non-asteroidal noises coming from Oumuamua. It’s found nothing as of this writing, but Pope thinks it's because they‘re listening for the wrong thing.
“Because there's no air in space, an alien spaceship wouldn't need to be designed in the same way that our aircraft have to be. Rather than building an interstellar spacecraft from scratch, it makes perfect sense to take an asteroid and then build your ship around it, or hollow it out and build inside it, for the protection you'd derive from being surrounded by so much rock.”
Whoa! That sounds plausible, especially coming from such a UFO expert. However, some astronomers observing Oumuamua disagree. In a paper published this week in the journal Nature Astronomy, professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the Queen's University Belfast agrees with Pope that Oumuamua is not what it appears to be, but he doesn’t think it’s a spaceship. In an interview with Space.com, he says he also doesn’t think it’s an asteroid.
"We didn't see any signs of typical spectroscopic signatures that you would expect from the minerals on the surface of an asteroid we see in our solar system. It rather seems to resemble the [icy] objects that are there in the outer solar system. That kind of got our head scratching. If the object had, originally at least, ice in it, what's happened to it?"
What happened was, like humans on trips that last much longer than expected, Oumuamua got crusty. Modeling its behavior, the astronomers determined that Oumuamua’s actions indicated it had an icy center surrounded by a thin crust. That sounds like an ice cream-and-cake dessert treat, but what it actually might be is a comet hidden inside a 20-inch-thick crust that protects its icy center from melting and prevents it from having a comet’s tail.
Fitzsimmons received support in his hypothesis from astronomer Michelle Bannister, a colleague at Queens University, who, in a separate paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, said this:
"We've discovered that this is a planetesimal with a well-baked crust that looks a lot like the tiniest worlds in the outer regions of our solar system."
Today’s word is “planetesimal," which means “a minute planet; a body that could or did come together with many others under gravitation to form a planet.”
So Oumuamua is likely to be a crusty comet (a great name for a band) from another solar system.
Back to you, Nick Pope.