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Space & Astronomy

'Oumuamua: not a hydrogen iceberg after all?

By T.K. Randall
August 20, 2020 · Comment icon 11 comments

There is still much we don't understand about 'Oumuamua. Image Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser
One of the foremost explanations for the nature and origin of the interstellar visitor has been cast into doubt.
The 400-meter-long object, which flew past our planet back in October 2017, became the focus of much debate and intrigue after it was determined that it had come from a distant solar system.

Unsurprisingly, this also lead to a great deal of speculation over whether it was a naturally occurring object or some sort of extraterrestrial vehicle, an idea that even prompted SETI to conduct a concerted effort to listen out for any evidence of artificial signals emanating from it.

Since then, scientists have proposed that 'Oumuamua may in fact be a hydrogen iceberg - an explanation that could account for its strange cigar-like shape and its apparent non-gravitational acceleration by way of jets of hydrogen gas acting as a form of self-propulsion.

Now however, a new paper by scientists at Harvard University and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) has cast this theory into doubt by suggesting that if 'Oumuamua had been a hydrogen iceberg, it would never have been able to survive the trip through deep space.

"We were suspicious that hydrogen icebergs could not survive the journey - which is likely to take hundreds of millions of years - because they evaporate too quickly, and as to whether they could form in molecular clouds," said study co-author Prof Avi Loeb.
On top of this, an iceberg of this kind could not have been created through conventional processes.

"An accepted route to form a km-sized object is first to form grains of micron-size, then such grains grow by sticky collisions," said study lead author Thiem Hoang from KASI.

"However, in regions with high gas density, collisional heating by gas collisions can rapidly sublimate the hydrogen mantle on the grains, preventing them from growing further."

So if it's not a hydrogen iceberg, what exactly is 'Oumuamua and how is it being propelled ?

The search for answers continues.

Source: Independent | Comments (11)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by DanL 4 years ago
Made me think of Rama from Author C. Clark's Rendevous with Rama.
Comment icon #3 Posted by jethrofloyd 4 years ago
Comment icon #4 Posted by Susanc241 4 years ago
I so loved that story.  I have always wondered why they haven’t tried making a film of it.
Comment icon #5 Posted by stevewinn 4 years ago
apparently we still have time to send a craft and catch up with Oumuamua, you'd think some agency would knock up a cheap craft with basic camera etc and chase it down.
Comment icon #6 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
No we don't. It's travelling much too fast to catch. No rocket ever built, or in the planning stage, is powerful enough.  'Oumuamua has a velocity of 26.33 km/s. The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons, has a velocity of 16.26 km/s.  'Oumuamua also has a head start.
Comment icon #7 Posted by stevewinn 4 years ago
Not what de grasse Tyson said. Feasible. We'd be able to catch it around 2050. 
Comment icon #8 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Care to provide a quote or a link?
Comment icon #9 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Further research brings up Project Lyra, from the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, which looked at catching 'Oumuamua using current or near term technology. They have several suggestions, mostly using technology that has not been tried yet, including laser sail technology.  The solution which uses least exotic technology would need to launch in 2021... so that's not going to happen.  This was a feasibility study and shows that the technology could be developed to intercept an interstellar object, but such technology is not currently available. 
Comment icon #10 Posted by stevewinn 4 years ago
It was on one of his startalk programmes on Youtube, which one god knows i've watched so many of them over the last three years. but the subject was brought up. - his sidekick and co presenter Chuck, asked Neil about catching it, referencing a proposal. speed was not an issue as we'd sling shot around certain planets to get that gravitational kick. Chuck asked if we can get such a gravitational kick and reach such speeds then why dont we use the same method when exploring our own solar system, to which Neil answered because you'd need to carry more propellent to slow you down as you near your ... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by qxcontinuum 4 years ago
Well this object has shown how not ready we are to intercept or to see at least alien interstellar objects. We continue guessing and thats all. Maybe In a few hundred years will be able to tell

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