Tag Archives: interstellar object

Interstellar object Oumuamua tumbling chaotically

A new analysis of the data obtained when the interstellar object Oumuamua flew through the solar system in October 2016 suggests that it is tumbling in a chaotic manner, and that the surface is spotty.

Straight away, they discovered that ‘Oumuamua wasn’t spinning periodically like most of the small asteroids and bodies that we see in our solar system. Instead, it is tumbling, or spinning chaotically, and could have been for many billions of years.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for this, it is thought that `Oumuamua impacted with another asteroid before it was fiercely thrown out of its system and into interstellar space. Dr Fraser explains: “Our modelling of this body suggests the tumbling will last for many billions of years to hundreds of billions of years before internal stresses cause it to rotate normally again.

To me, this data settles the question about whether Oumuamua is not an artificial structure. It is not. If it were, an impact that would have caused this kind of tumbling would have almost certainly destroyed it. Instead, it likely broke the original bolide up, producing many fragments, including Oumuamua and its elongated shape.

As for the object’s spottiness:

Dr Fraser explains: “Most of the surface reflects neutrally but one of its long faces has a large red region. This argues for broad compositional variations, which is unusual for such a small body.”

It is really a shame we couldn’t get a closer look before it sped away.


Oumuamua has a thick carbon crust built up by its interstellar travel

New results of observations of the interstellar object Oumuamua suggest that it has a thick crust of organic carbon soot that was slowly built up during the millions of years it traveled between the stars.

New observations of the cigar-shaped body found evidence for a deep surface layer that formed when organic ices – such as frozen carbon dioxide, methane and methanol – that make up the object were battered by the intense radiation that exists between the stars.

…The deep outer crust may have formed on the body over millions or even billions of years and gives ‘Oumuamua a dark red colour, according to researchers who investigated the object with the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands and the European Southern observatory in Chile’s Atacama desert.

There have been a slew of news stories today about these results, all focusing not on the crust of the object, which tells us nothing really about its interior, but on one quote by one scientist from the press release, who theorized — based on zero data — that the interior of the object could be icy. From this quote I have seen at least a half dozen stories exclaiming that Oumuamua thus could be like a comet, based on no information at all.

All we have learned is that traveling for a long time in interstellar space causes a build up of carbon-rich materials on the surface of an object. What might be hidden under that crust remains entirely unknown. It could be icy, but we don’t know that.


Initial analysis of radio observations of Oumuamua detect no artificial signals

The initial analysis of the first set of radio observations of Oumuamua by Breakthrough Listen has so far not detected any artificial signals.

No such signals have been detected, although the analysis is not yet complete. So far, data from the S-band receiver (covering frequencies from 1.7 to 2.6 GHz) has been processed, and analysis of the remaining three bands is ongoing. A subset of the S-band data is now available for public inspection in the Breakthrough Listen archive3, and additional data will be added as it becomes available.

The data is stored in specialized formats, and analyzing it may be challenging for non-experts. We invite those who are interested to study the tutorial material provided by the Breakthrough Listen science team at the University of California, Berkeley, SETI Research Center and to assist with the analysis not only of this intriguing object, but of the entire Breakthrough Listen dataset.

They still plan three more observation sessions.


Breakthrough Listen to observe Ourmuamua

Breakthrough Listen, one of billionaire Yuri Milner’s Breakthrough initiatives, is going to do an observation campaign of the interstellar object Ourmuamua using the Green Bank Radio telescope.

It has a highly unusual structure for an asteroid – an elongated cigar shape, hundreds of meters in length but with width and height perhaps only one tenth as long.

Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft, since this would minimize friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust. While a natural origin is more likely, there is currently no consensus on what that origin might have been, and Breakthrough Listen is well positioned to explore the possibility that ‘Oumuamua could be an artifact.

Listen’s observation campaign will begin on Wednesday, December 13 at 3:00 pm ET. Using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, it will continue to observe ‘Oumuamua across four radio bands, from 1 to 12 GHz. Its first phase of observations will last a total of 10 hours, divided into four “epochs” based on the object’s period of rotation.

If anything, this observation will provide us more information about Ourmuamua itself, which unfortunately is very limited because the object was already on its way out when it was discovered.