22:42 GMT20 September 2020
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    Last week, a new paper in Nature Astronomy on the origins of Oumuamua – the enigmatic cigar-shaped object that shot through our solar system in 2017, suggested that although that it did not seem to have been created by intelligence design, the object may in fact be transporting the building blocks of life from across the universe.

    The new study on Oumuamua by astronomers Yun Zhang and Douglas N C Lin does not rule out the hyperbolic asteroid’s alien nature, Harvard astrophysics and cosmologist Dr. Abraham 'Avi' Loeb suggests.

    “This new paper leaves open the possibility of an artificial origin for Oumuamua because it cannot account for the required abundance of such objects by requiring a production region so compact around their parent star,” Loeb said, speaking to Express, when asked to comment on the paper.

    In their study, Zhang and Lin carried out simulations and thermal modeling of Oumuamua, suggesting that the space rock was really a wedge-shaped piece of a dwarf planet that was smashed apart by the powerful gravitational forces of a distant star, which may have torn it into elongated fragments that were subsequently released into interstellar space.

    At the same time, the scientists left open the exciting possibility that elements buried within the fragment’s surface, such as ice, could still be trapped within the asteroid. What’s more, Zhang and Lin don’t discount the possibility that a space shard like the Oumuamua could pick up life-sustaining matter as it zips across the universe, and that it could one day plant this matter within a planet, perhaps giving rise to new life.

    However, Dr. Loeb insists that it’s too early to rule out the asteroid’s alien nature, given that it “exhibits many weird and unexpected properties that do not admit a simple natural explanation.” These properties, he says, have not been accounted for by the new research. “We should still keep an open mind about Oumuamua’s origins, he urged.

    Furthermore, the Harvard astronomer said he was not entirely convinced by Zhang and Lin’s conclusions, owing to the “low abundance of tidally disrupted objects.”

    “To account for Oumuamua as a member of a population of interstellar objects on random orbits, one needs each star to produce roughly a quadrillion (a thousand trillion) such objects, totaling roughly an Earth mass of rocky material per star. It is very unlikely that tidal disruption events will produce so many Oumuamua-like objects because these are rare events restricted to the region near a star, which is tens of millions of times smaller than the size of the planetary system around it,” he explained.

    This illustration shows ‘Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system. As the complex rotation of the object makes it difficult to determine the exact shape, there are many models of what it could look like.
    This illustration shows ‘Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system. As the complex rotation of the object makes it difficult to determine the exact shape, there are many models of what it could look like.

    Loeb proposed the exciting theory that Oumuamua may in fact be an alien-designed carrier vessel in 2018, citing its apparent mysterious ability to change speed, a property that was observed as the asteroid transited our solar system. Together with his colleague Dr. Shmuel Bialy, Loeb suggested that this property could be an indication that the asteroid is equipped with a light sail - a propulsion technology dependent on radiation pressure, making it unlikely for it to have natural origins.

    In any event, Dr. Loeb stresses that humanity faces immense risks – both natural catastrophes and man-made disasters, by putting all its “eggs…in one basket” on Earth and failing to do more to branch out into the stars. At the very least, he believes, humanity should send out information about who we are and what we care about as a species into the solar system. This, he says, “would be as precious as the development of Gutenberg’s printing press was for preserving copies of the Bible” was in its own time.


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