"It’s just the most generic explanation."
Move Over, Oumuamua
Remember Oumuamua, that weird and allegedly alien object that flew past Earth back in 2017, when we were all so young and starry-eyed? Now, some scientists have a new and boring explanation for what it was — and reader, it may have nothing to do with aliens.
In a new study published in the journal Nature this week, astronomy researchers out of Cornell and Berkeley suggested that Oumuamua, the interstellar interloper that whizzed past Earth in 2017 and has puzzled, mesmerized, and frustrated astronomers ever since, may well have been a gas-propelled comet with a tail so faint that we couldn't see it.
Perhaps the most head-scratching facet of the Oumuamua mystery is that the object, which was 400 feet long and first detected by astronomers in Hawaii, didn't have the same kind of tail as a comet. Paired with its unusual shape, that lack of tail led Harvard astronomer and alien hunter Avi Loeb to an out-of-this-world conclusion: that Oumuamua — which means "scout" in Hawaiian — was alien in origin.
This gas comet theory, which was dreamed up by Jennifer Bergner, an astrochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and defended by Cornell postdoctoral astronomy researcher Darryl Z. Seligman, offers a somewhat tidier, albeit less fantastical, explanation: that the object, which some have posited may have been an asteroid, was actually a comet, and was propelled by hydrogen gas that came from a potentially icy core.
"We show that this mechanism can explain many of Oumuamua’s peculiar properties without fine-tuning," Bergner and Seligman wrote in their Nature paper. "This provides further support that Oumuamua originated as a planetesimal relic broadly similar to solar system comets."
"What’s beautiful about Jenny’s idea," Seligman said in a UC Berkeley press release, "is that it’s exactly what should happen to interstellar comets. We had all these stupid ideas, like hydrogen icebergs and other crazy things, and it’s just the most generic explanation."
Naturally, there are people — Loeb, for one — who aren't buying it.
Loeb pointed Futurism toward a new paper he published in response, arguing that the new paper in Nature miscalculated the surface temperature of Oumuamua in a way that voided its findings.
"The authors of the new paper claim that it was a water ice comet even though we did not see the cometary tail," the Harvard firebrand said in an emailed statement to the New York Times. "This is like saying an elephant is a zebra without stripes."
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