Oumuamua, the interstellar Space Rock

Oumuamua moves away from the Solar System at 130,000 kilometers per hour heading for the constellation Pegasus. (ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Astronomers dazzled by mysterious interstellar visit

Oumuamua means “first messenger come from far away” in Hawaiian and is the name with which the first interstellar object (traveling between stars) has been baptized detected by humans.

It’s been a fleeting visit: it entered the Solar System in September, it flew past the Sun and Mercury and is already moving into outer space at 130,000 kilometers per hour.

Astronomers have yet not been able to determine its origin, but one thing is certain: it is a body from outside the Solar System, somewhere from another part of the galaxy.

Early studies suggested that it was an asteroid: a body composed of rocks and metal. But now scientists believe it could contain ice beneath the surface, a feature that would turn it into a comet.

A long way from home

This interstellar object was formed in another part of the Milky Way, our galaxy, and has been traveling for millions of years.

The objects that are part of our Solar System (like Earth, the asteroid belt or Pluto) circle round the Sun. On the other hand, the trajectory of Oumuamua is very different: it crossed the system from top to bottom just once.

Besides, it travels at a very high speed. Thanks to its speed and trajectory, scientists have determined that it is an interstellar asteroid.

Is Oumuamua an alien spacecraft?

What has surprised experts the most is its curious shape: it is thin and very long, about 400 meters long. It’s rather a strange shape for an asteroid, because these are usually rounder.

Because of its peculiar form, scientists and space buffs have speculated about the Oumuamua being an artificial object, built by aliens. Some even think it could be a spacecraft.

The SETI Institute, an organization that looks out for any signs of alien life, decided to look deeper into this possibility by means of the Breakthrough Listen program. They pointed the Green Banks telescope towards the space area where the asteroid was located and activated the radio wave detectors for several hours.

So far, all results have turned out negative and although the data collected by the telescope has not yet been analyzed, the chances of finding signs of intelligent life aboard the Oumuamua are slim to none.

But scientists do not give up hope. Now they know that they can detect these bodies with the telescopes they have today and impatiently await for the next interstellar visit.

Translated by Chaplin’s Languages | Find out more in Junior Report

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