‘Oumuamua has been on a long, strange journey not only in terms of its voyage from a distant corner of space and through our own Solar System, but also in terms of the discussion surrounding the mysterious interstellar object. Since its initial discovery in 2017, professional astronomers and amateur stargazers alike have put forward all manner of theories concerning the curious traveler, most prominent being the claim made by Harvard astronomy chair Avi Loeb who adamantly stands by his claim that ‘Oumuamua could be an alien spacecraft.
Naturally, dead-eyed, cynical astronomy professors in their ivory towers everywhere have been attacking Loeb’s theory. How dare a scientist consider all possibilities and acknowledge the possibility, however small, that intelligent life could exist somewhere other than Earth! While Loeb and other scientists publicly debate whether or not ‘Oumuamua could be an alien craft or probe traveling by means of solar sail, a NASA astronomer quietly published a paper this week with his own theory about the first known interstellar visitor to our Solar System.
Zdenek Sekanina, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, believes that ‘Oumuamua could be a “monstrous fluffy dust aggregate” left behind by the violent destruction of a comet. According to a new study Sekanina published in the open source journal arXiv.org, ‘Oumuamua very well could be a loosely-bound cloud of dust zooming through the universe like a cosmic zombie after a “recent explosive event” destroyed what was once a comet.
Sekanina cites an Oort Cloud comet known as C/2017 S3 which exploded and left behind another “monstrous, extremely fluffy aggregate of loosely bound dust grains” which continued to fly through the cosmos. Could ‘Oumuamua be another one of these comet corpse clouds? Ultimately, we may never know, as the object quickly sped past Earth and around the Sun on its way to eventually exit our Solar System in 20,000 years. Will we ever know the true nature of this interstellar visitor? Could ‘Oumuamua indeed be an alien probe or is it a fluffy cloud of dust?
Why not both?