Interstellar object theorized to be a piece of a planet destroyed by its home star


According to National Geographic, ’Oumuamua is an interstellar object discovered in 2017, whose shape has baffled scientists all around the world. This object was first spotted by the Pan-STARRS project at the Haleakalā Observatory in Maui. ’Oumuamua is a rocky and dry object, much like an asteroid, and is thought to be cigar-shaped. “’Oumuamua provides a lot of problems to explain its origin,” says Yun Zhang, a researcher at the Côte d’Azur Observatory in Nice, France. To solve the mystery that is the object’s shape, Zhang’s team created a simulation to test where ’Oumuamua could have come from. “Before our study, no solution can produce such an elongated [cigar-like] shape” (National Geographic). ~

Zhang and her colleague Doug Lin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, believed the possible solution to why ’Oumuamua was cigar-shaped and dry was that it was a byproduct of a process called tidal disruption. Tidal disruption is the spinning, stretching, and shredding of a planet by a star’s gravity. Zhang and Lin’s simulation tested this theory and they found that if a planet were to get within 220,000 miles of its host star, it would go through tidal disruption. “Nature doesn’t make a lot of shard-like objects,” says Greg Laughlin, a professor of astronomy at Yale University. “So the fact that tidal disruption does naturally do that makes it a very compelling idea to explore, and they’ve done a very complete and careful job of exploring that option” (National Geographic). Zhang and Lin believe a planet got within 220,000 miles of its host star and went through tidal disruption which then caused this shard-like byproduct to be sent our way. Another theory this team found was that ’Oumuamua had ice inside in which then was melted into water when passing our sun. Once past the sun, it froze back up and became hard and dry. ~

Although this theory seems very plausible, others believe that ’Oumuamua is not cigar-shaped but more shaped like a pancake. “If you assume that the object was cigar-shaped, this is a very plausible end-to-end description of what it was,” Laughlin says. “But if it is the case that ‘Oumuamua is a pancake-shaped object, then that puts the whole thing back into the pure mystery zone.” ~

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