What is Oumuamua?
Oumuamua is one of the most important celestial discoveries of a generation and is the first interstellar object to be observed in our own solar system, following its official discovery at the Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii, on 19 October, 2017. Scientists aren’t really sure where Oumuamua came from or what it’s made of, there’s also been lengthy debate about whether it’s actually an asteroid or a comet.
At first, Oumuamua was classified as a comet, but further observations revealed no other hallmarks associated with being a comet. Following its passing of the sun at an incredible 87.3 kilometers per second, it was reclassified as an asteroid. It was later reclassified once again as during further observations and was found to be slightly but steadily accelerating, which is, of course, more typically the behaviour of a comet.
Oumuamua was spotted around 33,000,000 km away from the Earth, which is about 85 times as far away as the Moon. It was observed to be anywhere between 100 and 1,000 meters long, with both its width and thickness pinpointed at somewhere between 35 and 167 metres. It’s fair to say that in terms of celestial objects, Oumuamua is pretty small. This led scientists to believe that Oumuamua could in fact be a fragment of a disintegrated rogue comet, that is, a comet that isn’t bound to a single location by a gravitational pull.
One of the Solar System’s Biggest Mysteries
There is absolutely zero chance that Oumuamua originated in our solar system, it’s moving so fast in relation to the sun that it’s got to have began its journey incomprehensibly far away. What this also means is that there’s no chance it will be ensnared in a solar orbit, and will eventually leave our solar system and carry on with its journey to the depths of interstellar space. When you consider the amount of time that it’s been travelling to have built up such tremendous speed, it’s time in our vicinity is a tiny fraction of it’s existence.
Renowned Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb went as far as suggesting that Oumuamua could be an alien space ship that’s searching our solar system for signs of life. He hypothesized that it’s neither an asteroid or a comet, but is in fact a light sail. A light sail is a form of spacecraft that is powered solely by radiation pressure.
Similar technology is being employed by the Breakthrough Starshot project. The Starshot project is many years from completion which would have suggested, if it were a spacecraft, that it was from a highly advanced society. Loeb’s ideas were roundly dismissed by his peers who unequivocally stated that Oumuamua is made of organic matter and has not been constructed by any living being.
What’s in a Name?
Oumuamua means “a messenger from afar arriving first” in Hawaiian. It was given this name due to being discovered by scientists based in Hawaii and also for the pertinent symbolism associated with it. For some, Oumuamua symbolizes a messenger sent from a distant realm to reach out and make contact with humanity.
While Oumuamua may be the first of its kind, scientists and astrology fans throughout the world are hoping it’s not the last. The next time we have a visitor from so far away, let’s hope it sticks around for a little while so we get to learn a bit more about it.