While researchers are not entirely sure what ‘Oumuamua is, they’ve absolutely ruled out that aliens were behind the wheel. Sort of.
Back in 2017, we were visited by an odd, cigar-shaped piece of Astro rock hailing from somewhere beyond the Solar System. Scientists called it ‘Oumuamua’, laymen called it ‘Dafuqisthat’. No-one knew, then, but as 2019 continually does, disappointment has landed on Earth, as a spate of research that whatever it was, it wasn’t an alien spaceship.
Well, they’re 95% sure.
“We have never seen anything like ‘Oumuamua in our solar system. It’s really a mystery still,” said astronomer Matthew Knight of the University of Maryland.
“But our preference is to stick with analogues we know, unless or until we find something unique. The alien spacecraft hypothesis is a fun idea, but our analysis suggests there is a whole host of natural phenomena that could explain it.”
The more one thinks about it, the stranger it seems. It had been travelling for hundreds of millions of years across the nothingness of space, only to blithely float past our Sun and then bugger off forever. It also possesses the crime of being weird, as it looks like no other asteroid or comet would, it emits no gas (as a comet would), and its trajectory could not be explained by gravity would (as an asteroid would).
If we lived in simpler times, where scientists were dismissed as freaks, we’d probably see the space thing as the sign of a coming apocalypse.
Despite all this, ‘Oumuamua is not a spaceship.
“This thing is weird and admittedly hard to explain, but that doesn’t exclude other natural phenomena that could explain it,” Knight said.
The research believes started as a planetesimal, which is the undeveloped embryo of a planet, one that got ejected into space. In science circles, this is actually quite common, and there might be more in stow.
“We may start seeing a new object every year,” Knight said. “That’s when we’ll start to know whether ‘Oumuamua is weird, or common. If we find 10-20 of these things and ‘Oumuamua still looks unusual, we’ll have to reexamine our explanations.”