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NASA reveals new findings about ‘Oumuamua, the ‘alien probe’ asteroid


European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser

There have been some zany theories about the cigar-shaped asteroid, referred to as ‘Oumuamua, that scientists first detected zipping by means of our photo voltaic system in October 2017.

As the first interstellar object we have detected floating by means of our neck of the cosmic woods, ‘Oumuamua captivated scientists and stargazers alike. Its detection was a watershed second as a result of, though scientists suspect interstellar guests go by means of our system with some regularity, this was the first time they’d really seen one.

The uncommon form and unusual pace of the interstellar asteroid had astronomers puzzled. It appeared to zip previous the solar in a approach scientists didn’t count on, grabbing an unexpected speed boost on its journey throughout the photo voltaic system. That led to 1 explicit paper suggesting it might even be an alien probe, despatched from the far reaches of house.

Immediately after its detection, ground-based and space-based telescopes centered themselves on ‘Oumuamua, hoping to grasp precisely what it was.

One of these telescopes was Spitzer, an infra-red telescope NASA launched in 2003. In a research published on Wednesday in The Astronomical Journal, astronomers defined that they pointed Spitzer at ‘Oumuamua for 2 months after its preliminary detection however they could not detect it.

“The fact that ‘Oumuamua was too small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result,” said David Trilling, lead creator on the paper.

Though it looks like a “non-detection” may not be capable of inform us something about ‘Oumuamua, it is really fairly an vital discovering as a result of it locations constraints on simply how unusual an object the interstellar customer could be.

Astronomers suspect jets of fuel are answerable for giving ‘Oumuamua an uncommon pace enhance.


The Spitzer telescope has a distinct pair of eyes to a standard telescope, because it had been, as a result of it sees in infrared power and thus detects a warmth signature, moderately than searching for mirrored mild. Though it’s believed that ‘Oumuamua has an elongated physique, Spitzer can not infer the form of the object from its studying, however could make an estimate about the object’s “spherical diameter”. The research suggests it could be as small as 100 meters (320 ft), or as giant as 440 meters (1,440 ft).

Importantly, putting measurement constraints on ‘Oumuamua is central to one in every of the excellent mysteries of the interstellar customer — the uncommon pace enhance it acquired because it sped previous the solar. In June, a research advised that if the asteroid was sufficiently small, outgassing — the launch of fuel trapped in the asteroid because it heats up — could also be answerable for the elevated pace. Spitzer’s observations definitely make that concept more likely and successfully places the “alien probe” concept to mattress. 

As the object continues its journey by means of house, away from the Earth, it will get additional and additional away from our telescopes so we’re unlikely to get a deal with on simply precisely what ‘Oumuamua is.

Like ships in the evening, the Earth and ‘Oumuamua are destined to hold on crusing throughout the cosmic ocean, by no means to satisfy once more. 

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