The debate about what exactly the mysterious interstellar object known as “Oumuamua” is, continues to rage on, as some researchers believe it could be a ‘lightsail’ sent from another civilization, while others believe it is a remnant from another solar system. NASA, which admitted it did not originally see the object, believes it is a “metallic or rocky object”approximately 400 meters (1,312 feet) in length.
Now, a new paper suggests the space object may be nothing more than cosmic space dust.
The research, written by Zdenek Sekanina and put online here, theorizes that Oumuamua could be nothing more than “a monstrous fluffy dust aggregate” made up of a broken up comet. Put simply, a massive cloud of dust grains.
Sekanina, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, notes that comets typically disintegrate starting with “an outburst and that the debris is typically a massive cloud of dust grains that survives over a limited period of time” as they get closer to the Sun.
Going off this observation and given the exceptional brightness of Oumuamua, Sekanina adds in the paper “there are reasons to believe that it suffered the same fate as do the frail comets.”
On Tuesday, Harvard University professor Avi Loeb refused to back down from his claims that a piece of extraterrestrial spacecraft technology may be flying past the orbit of Jupiter at this moment.
He told the Washington Post that the object is long yet no more than one millimeter thick, and that it’s so light that sunlight is moving the object out of the solar system. “Many people expected once there would be this publicity, I would back down,” Loeb said. “If someone shows me evidence to the contrary, I will immediately back down.”
Along with researcher Shmuel Bialy, Loeb made wrote a research paper theorizing that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment.”
Canadian physicist and astronomer Robert Weryk, who discovered Oumuamua (which is Hawaiian name for “pathfinder” or “scout”), said the idea was preposterous and “wild speculation.”
In November, NASA published a study in the Astronomical Journal, revealing that when it was looking at the interstellar object in November with its Spitzer Space Telescope, it came up with — nothing.
Oumuamua is traveling away from the Sun at a rate of approximately 70,000 mph, towards the outer part of the solar system. In approximately four years, it will whiz past Neptune’s orbit, on its way to interstellar space.
Lukas Mikelionis contributed to this report.