In mid-October of this year, researchers discovered what they believe to be an interstellar object that has entered our own sliver of the universe. The object, which has been dubbed ‘Oumuamua, is long and slim, relatively speaking, with a shape that some describe as UFO-like. Despite its appearance, though, all signs point toward the object originating from nature, not intelligent life, but its composition remains in question.
A study, which was recently published in Nature, reveals that ‘Oumuamua may contain water trapped beneath a thick carbon crust. This is in contrast to observations made over the past several weeks which found no signs of outgassing as the object approaches the Sun; this seems to indicate that there’s no — or very, very little — water. However, the observations could be due to where the water is located within the object.
According to the study, the object could have formed the aforementioned carbon shell over millions of years, trapping any present water/ice beneath it. That would account for the observations so far that point toward the object presenting a reflection that indicates a dry crust.
Because the object is spinning so frequently — once every 7.5 hours — researchers believe that it may have a low density and could therefore be fragile. Other mysteries remain. One point of fascination is ‘Oumuamua’s very long, very thin shape, which hasn’t previously been observed in a comet or asteroid. Some researchers have monitored it for signs of radio signals, but none have been detected, further underscoring the idea that it is a natural object.
Some things are known by this point, though, such as the color of the object’s crust: red and grey. Researchers have also noted that the shape, while odd for a comet or asteroid, has a striking resemblance to some worlds located in the far reaches of our solar system. What caused the unusual shape is unknown, though; some suggest it could be the result of many collisions thoughout its life, while others state that the object could be made of multiple objects.