ʻOumuamua is the first known interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System. Researchers at Harvard’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics made waves in the mainstream media after publishing a paper claiming the object may have had an “artificial origin”—Presenting speculation that ‘Oumuamua could have been sent “intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.”
This theory is based on the object’s “excess acceleration,” or its unexpected boost in speed separate from the Sun’s gravitational influence. This still stumps researchers today.
There’s a lot we haven’t learned about the quarter-mile-long object since its discovery in 2017. One thing is for certain, though; it’s traveling fast, blistering fast. In fact, when ‘Oumuamua was closest to Earth, it was tumbling through the inner Solar System at 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second), according to NASA. That is over 3 times faster than the average speed of a main-belt asteroid.
Despite this, almost 4 years later, ‘Oumuamua is still in our Solar System. It’s currently cruising between the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, covering a distance of 1,486,000 miles (2,391,485 km) every 24 hours. It won’t be completely out into interstellar space for another 3 years, highlighting how vast space really is.
This quick slingshot around the Sun made observing and classifying the object difficult.
To this day, we’ve yet to classify ‘Oumuamua. This is in part because we honestly have no idea. At first, we thought it was an asteroid—a large chunk of rock from a distant star system. Then we thought it was a comet—a cosmic iceberg flung loose from somewhere in the great unknown. Now scientists and researchers are stumped. Only left to speculate, with little data, what the cosmic visitor was as it gets further and further from view.
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