‘Oumuamua, the intriguing elongated asteroid, and the first visitor detected to have come from outside the Solar System, has a crust rich in organic matter that has prevented the vaporization of its interior ice.
The enigmatic object was recently scanned by astronomers from the Breakthrough Listen Project in hopes of finding potential signals of alien technology.
The asteroid, first classified a comet when discovered, is currently traveling at nearly 200,000 miles per hour.
Since the object was discovered in October, Alan Fitzsimmons and Michele Bannister, from the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University in Belfast, have led an international team of astronomers to create a profile of this strange visitor.
The team measured the way ‘Oumuamua reflects sunlight and found it similar to frozen objects covered with a dry crust. This is because ‘Oumuamua has been exposed to cosmic rays for millions, or even billions of years, creating an insulating layer rich in organic matter on its surface.
The research, detailed in the journal Nature Astronomy, suggests that the dry bark of Oumuamua could have protected its icy interior from being vaporized, even though the object was 23 million miles from the sun in September when slingshot around our star.
“We have discovered that the surface of ‘Oumuamua is similar to the small bodies of the solar system that are covered with carbon-rich ice, whose structure is modified by exposure to cosmic rays,” says Professor Alan Fitzsimmons.
“We have also found that a half-meter thick coating of organic-rich material could have protected a water-ice-rich comet-like interior from vaporizing when the object was heated by the sun, even though it was heated to over 300 degrees centigrade.”
Dr. Michele Bannister and her team observed ‘Oumuamua while still within range of the world’s largest telescopes.
Astronomers found that the object was the same color as some of the smaller frozen planets that they had been studying outside of our solar system, which implies that different planetary systems in our galaxy contain smaller planets like ours.
Working together, scientists have been able to discover some very important facts about Oumuamua.
“We have discovered that it is a planetesimal with a well-formed crust that looks a lot like the smaller worlds in the outer regions of our solar system, it has a greyish/red surface and it is very elongated, probably the size and shape of the Gherkin skyscraper in London », explains Bannister.
“It’s fascinating that the first interstellar object discovered looks so much like a tiny world from our own home system. This suggests that the way our planets and asteroids formed has a lot of kinship to the systems around other stars.”
“We are continuing our research into ‘Oumuamua and are hopeful that we will make more discoveries in the near future. Discoveries like this really help to give a little more insight into what’s out there and encourages people to look up and wonder,” concluded Dr. Bannister.