A visitor to our solar system became the subject of headlines around the world last year after alien-hunters scanned the cigar-shaped rock now named `Oumuamua.
But while the object isn’t – as many UFO fans hoped – a product of alien technology, it got an unexpected boost in speed as it passed through the inner solar system last year.
Marco Micheli of ESA’s (European Space Agency) said, ‘Our high-precision measurements of ′Oumuamua’s position revealed that there was something affecting its motion other than the gravitational forces of the Sun and planets.’
Analyzing the trajectory of the interstellar visitor, co-author Davide Farnocchia of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) found that the speed boost was consistent with the behavior of a comet.
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Farnocchia said, ‘This additional subtle force on ′Oumuamua likely is caused by jets of gaseous material expelled from its surface.This same kind of outgassing affects the motion of many comets in our solar system.’
Comets normally eject large amounts of dust and gas when warmed by the Sun.
But according to team scientist Olivier Hainaut of the European Southern Observatory, ‘There were no visible signs of outgassing from ′Oumuamua, so these forces were not expected.’
The team estimates that ′Oumuamua’s outgassing may have produced a very small amount of dust particles – enough to give the object a little kick in speed, but not enough to be detected.