Oumuamua: First Alien Object Is Cloaked in Mysterious Coat, Scientists Say

By Janita Kan

New details about the cigar-shaped interstellar object have emerged after scientists spent weeks studying the mysterious “alien rock.”

Scientists have revealed that Oumuamua—which was caught on a telescope in October—is wrapped in a layer of organic insulation, reported the Independent.

Researchers have conducted two major studies to look at what Oumuamua actually looks like and what it could be made of. One group of researchers used spectroscopy and thermal modelling to try and understand the rock’s composition while the other group observed the color of Oumuamua and used that to try and discover how it looked.

According to the new research, the object is likely made up of an icy body which is shielded by an organic coat that protects it from being hit by the sun.

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, from Queen’s University Belfast and co-author of the research into the rock’s composition, said although they didn’t detect ice in the internal body, their research does not rule it out.

“In the end this was a nice result because we’ve expected all along that the majority of objects that would visit our solar system would be icy in nature,” Fitzsimmons told the Independent.

“Our study says that this object could well be icy in nature but we didn’t detect that ice due to the fact it’s been baked by energetic radiation between the stars for hundreds of millions of years, or even billions of years,” he added.

As for the organic coat, Fitzsimmons said it was made of carbon-based compounds developing from original ice-rich and carbon-rich material that came from its home star system, reported AFP.

“[The shield was] created by reactions between the original surface and bombardment by energetic particles in interstellar space over millions or billions of years,” Fitzsimmons told the news station.

“It is difficult to know what it would resemble, but something between coal dust and graphite (pencil shavings) is possible,” he added.

Dr. Michele Bannister, also from Queen’s University Belfast and the author of another study on the color of the strange rock, said they expected that rocks similar to Oumuamua are thrown from elsewhere in the universe into our solar system. However, they are difficult to spot as they are so dark.

“In some ways we had expected these things for some time,” Bannister told the newspaper. “Our own solar system has ejected millions of very small rocky bodies, and so we should expect that others do the same.”

The findings were interesting as they give scientists an opportunity to understand how other stars are formed and how objects might cope with the harsh environment of space, giving us a direct look at something that has undergone this process.

Bannister said Oumuamua could have traveled in our universe for millions or billions of years.

“It’s travelled for millions or billions of years – it could be older than our solar system,” said Bannister. “It’s come from a very long way away, but it looks very familiar.”

Oumuamua is Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first.”

Officially named Interstellar Asteroid 1I/2017 U1, it appears to have originated from the star Vega and is currently leaving the Solar System. It may take approximately 20,000 years to do so.

Simon Veazey contributed to this report.

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