Aliens were not behind the first known interstellar visit to our solar system, according to a new study.
In October 2017, astronomers documented a strange object zooming through our solar system. They struggled to define exactly what the oblong space rock was, saying it had characteristics of both a comet and an asteroid. The object, named ‘Oumuamua, travelled past the sun at 196,000 miles per hour.
Researchers quickly aimed their telescopes at the object before it traveled too far from Earth’s view. They suggested that ‘Oumuamua – Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first” – had been wandering through our galaxy for hundreds of millions of years without attaching to a star system. The unusual object is rocky, cigar-shaped and up to a quarter mile long.
Photos: Space Over Time
A Harvard physicist last year suggested ‘Oumuamua could be evidence of extraterrestrial technology, saying it acts like an artificial solar sail using solar radiation to propulse itself around space. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket last week carried a similar spacecraft from The Planetary Society.
Avi Loeb, chairman of the astronomy department at Harvard, wrote that it was unclear if ‘Oumuamua is functional or a failed piece of technology debris, adding that “only a fraction of the interstellar objects might be technological debris of alien civilizations.”
The theory fueled speculation of alien visitation, but while other researchers still don’t know much about the mysterious rock, they are pretty certain it came from a natural origin, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
“We have never seen anything like ‘Oumuamua in our solar system. It’s really a mystery still,” said study co-author Matthew Knight of the University of Maryland Department of Astronomy. “But our preference is to stick with analogs we know, unless or until we find something unique. The alien spacecraft hypothesis is a fun idea, but our analysis suggests there is a whole host of natural phenomena that could explain it.”
Knight worked on a team of over a dozen astronomers who analyzed existing data to see how ‘Oumuamua might have escaped its home system. They suggest it’s possible the strange rock was ejected by a gas giant planet that was orbiting another star.
‘Oumuamua could be the first of many interstellar interlopers, researchers say.
“We may start seeing a new object every year,” Knight said. “That’s when we’ll start to know whether ‘Oumuamua is weird, or common. If we find 10-20 of these things and ‘Oumuamua still looks unusual, we’ll have to reexamine our explanations.”