Scientists have proposed a space mission to investigate the mysterious cosmic object known as ‘Oumuamua, which has fascinated astronomers for years and is theoretically linked to extraterrestrial life.
“Oumuamua was first detected at the telescope in 2017 by Robert Weryk, a Hawaii-based astronomer, as it passed through our solar system and passed in front of the sun nearly 200,000 miles east. time.
The object is puzzling, having escaped classification as a comet or asteroid.
One of the odd things about ‘Oumuamua is its shape, described as cigar-like by NASA. It is about 10 times longer than it is wide, unlike any other object seen in the solar system.
Astronomers later confirmed that ‘Oumuamua was the first object ever detected to have visited our solar system from another star.
But almost as soon as the object arrived, it was on its way again, passing the orbits of Mars, then Jupiter in 2018, then Saturn in 2019.
Astronomers still don’t know exactly where ‘Oumuamua came from, and inevitably some theories implicate extraterrestrials.
To find out exactly what it is, some scientists have proposed launching a mission to visit the object, but that could be tricky because it’s constantly moving away from us.
One way to do this would be to use what’s called an Oberth solar maneuver, which would involve launching a spacecraft around the sun in order to speed up and catch ‘Oumuamua in a few decades – but that comes with risks , and the need for a heat shield.
In a new draft study published last week, scientists have now come up with an alternative way to reach the strange object using the gravitational influence of Venus, Earth and Jupiter, which means a probe could potentially reach ‘Oumuamua in about 26 years and avoid the risks. of a solar flight. It could be launched as early as 2028, according to the authors.
It should be noted that the study does not appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal yet.
Almost inevitably, some theories surrounding ‘Oumuamua’s origins involve intelligent extraterrestrial life.
Although it may seem unrealistic, one of the most prominent proponents of such a theory is Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr., professor of science and astrophysics at Harvard University.
In 2018, Loeb co-authored a study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, investigating the potential origins of the space object in which the possibility that it was “of man-made origin” was seriously considered.
Loeb and his colleague wrote that ‘Oumuamua could be what is called a light sail, a technology that uses sunlight or other stars to propel it through space.
This, they said, could explain the odd shape of the object as well as the fact that it is so highly reflective and appears to move through space without losing a tail of matter like comets do.
This, however, is not the most striking suggestion of Loeb’s report. Another section reads: “Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua could be a fully operational probe intentionally sent to the vicinity of Earth by an extraterrestrial civilization.”
A mission to ‘Oumuamua?
Talk to Newsweek, Loeb said last week’s draft document proposing a 2028 mission to the space object was “interesting” but expressed concern about the associated difficulty.
“My concern is that the small uncertainty we have about Oumuamua’s trajectory, due to the non-gravitational thrust it has shown away from the Sun, translates into a large uncertainty about its current position,” he said. he declares.
“Furthermore, at its current distance from the Sun, ‘Oumuamua is more than a million times fainter than it was near Earth and any targeting spacecraft will need to be outfitted with a large telescope to find ‘Oumuamua.”
Instead, Loeb thinks a better approach would be to wait for astronomers to observe another mysterious ‘Oumuamua-like object in the solar system and travel there. This is the objective of the Galileo project, which he directs.
“The goal is to take a close-up photo that would reveal whether it’s an unusual rock or extraterrestrial equipment, because a picture is worth a thousand words,” he said.
Such a mission will however be costly, possibly costing a billion dollars. “In other words, ‘to date or not to date?’ is a billion dollar question,” Loeb wrote in December last year.