People have always dreamed of discovering evidence or proof of extraterrestrial life. Imagine how much fame and fortune one would achieve by becoming the first person to discover concrete evidence of aliens or something else living in Earth's solar system.
Well, that is what astronomers in Maui may have discovered on October 7th, 2017. Meet Oumuamua, a giant cigar-shaped space rock that has a radius of 700 feet. In Hawaiian, its name means “messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to us.” Or, just simply “scout.” It gained this name because it was the first interstellar object spotted in Earth's solar system.
It is so special compared to all of the other space rocks flying around in Earth's solar system is because Oumuamua was traveling more than 70,000 miles per hour, which means it could not be caught in the sun’s gravity. For reference, Voyager 1, which is currently leaving Earth's solar system, is traveling at 35,000 miles per hour.
An interesting bit about this unique rock is that somehow, scientists still do not know where Oumuamua came from. Though it is fun to think it was part of an alien spaceship, it was most likely originally part of a comet, or possibly an asteroid.
Fast forward to November 6th, 2018, and scientists know a bit more than back in 2017. For instance, there is another mystery involving this space mystery. After it slingshotted around the sun fast enough to avoid the grasp of gravity, it sped up. However, the cause of this sudden boost in speed is unknown.
“There was something affecting its motion other than the gravitational forces of the Sun and planets,” Marco Micheli of the European Space Agency, stated. He was part of the team who was tracking the space rock this June. In January of 2018, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted Oumuamua and found out that it was off the estimated trajectory by about 25,000 miles (40,000 km.)
There is a very likely and simple solution to this sudden change in speed: a comet. Most likely it was expelling debris and gases that propelled it along similar to that of a spacecraft flying with rocket fuel. However, scientists did not see evidence of these jets that can commonly be examined on these types of rocks. Further, unlike a comet, the rock did not break apart under the intense heat of the sun, creating a telltale sign of a tail. So the mystery deepens, as there is evidence for both of the sides in this argument of whether or not a comet caused the change in speed.
Is it an alien? Not likely. Instead, Harvard professors Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb reviewed the previously stated facts and came up with a rational explanation for the sudden boost in speed. They said that solar radiation pressure is the force the sun’s radiation exerts upon an object. This force could be an easy and plausible reason for the sudden acceleration. If this theory holds true, Oumuamua is probably a very thin object, too.
Additionally, others believe that this rock could be an operational probe classified as a light sail. Light sails are sails propelled by the radiation of the sun, similar to how a kite functions.
In the end, Oumuamua is one mysterious rock. While it is exciting to think it could be in some way related to extraterrestrial life, it is likely just a plain old rock.