The mysterious Oumuamua is farting its way through our solar system
The cigar-shaped, weird-as-hell interstellar object known as Oumuamua has confounded and fascinated the science community since it was discovered in October 2017. It’s a strange object for a few reasons: it’s got a unique shape, it spins end over end, it reflects light, and it’s been picking up speed — oh, and also, we’ve never seen anything like it.
This week, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released findings that helped elucidate at least a little bit of the questions surrounding Oumuamua. They’ve figured out that there’s a cap on how large the object can be, which sounds like it’s not that big a deal — except that having such a size limit confirms a previous theory that the reason Oumuamua keeps going faster is that it’s farting.
As Oumuamua picks up heat from the sun, its reflective outer coating immediately sublimates from solid to gas, which in turn acts as a little thruster, propelling the object faster and faster. As one bit of reflective surface matter disappears, it’s replaced by even more.
But, like, what does this all actually mean? Is this thing just a stick-shaped farting rock? Or is it something else? For what it’s worth, Professor Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, theorizes that the thing’s either a piece of debris from an alien spaceship — or, semi-terrifyingly, that it could be a probe checking us out. His rationale is that Oumuamua’s shape resembles a light sail, a type of prospective propulsion system that we’ve been trying to create on earth. Loeb, whose website includes a list of predictions he’s made that have seen been proven correct, told the German newspaper Die Zeit that given what we know the technology is feasible, “it’s possible that another civilization has already accomplished it and — taking it one step further — might have sent a probe to the earth on purpose.”