An Origin Story for Mysterious Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua

An artist’s impression of ‘Oumuamua. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

In 2017, ‘Oumuamua became the first known interstellar object detected passing through the solar system. With its unusual, elongated shape, its hyperbolic orbit that was not gravitationally bound to the Sun, and its puzzling motion due to non-gravitational forces, some people wondered whether it was an alien probe. What is the true origin of this interstellar object? A study by Yun Zhang and Douglas Lin of Tsinghua University in China offers the first comprehensive answer to this question. The team used high-resolution computer simulations to model the dynamics of an object closely flying by a star. They found that the star can dramatically tidally disrupt the object if it comes close enough to the star, splitting it into extremely elongated fragments, then ejecting the fragments into interstellar space. Scientists expect that this fragmentation scenario provides a way to form not only a single ‘Oumuamua, but a vast population of rocky interstellar objects. According to the authors, “’Oumuamua is just the tip of the iceberg. We anticipate many more interstellar visitors with similar traits will be discovered by future observation with the forthcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory.” READ MORE