The researchers analyzed ’Oumuamua in both visible and infrared wavelengths to better understand its composition, and found that there were different compositions across its surface. After modelling the thermal properties of ’Oumuamua, they estimated that the object is covered with a half-meter (1.6-foot) covering of materials rich in organics.
“We have also found that a half-meter thick coating of organic-rich material could have protected a water-ice-rich comet-like interior from vaporizing when the object was heated by the sun,” Fitzsimmons said, “even though it was heated to over 300 degrees centigrade [572 degrees Fahrenheit].”
The interstellar interloper has been the subject of much intrigue since its discovery, with some of it focused on the hope of finding life beyond Earth. Breakthrough Listen, an initiative supported by the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner that bills itself as “the largest ever scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth,” suggested at one point that it might be an interstellar craft based on its oblong shape.
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Previous research had posited that interstellar spacecraft could be cigar- or needle-shaped because this would make it easier for a spacecraft to pass through dust or gas between galaxies, Breakthrough said in a statement. “While a natural origin is more likely,” it added, “there is currently no consensus on what that origin might have been, and Breakthrough Listen is well positioned to explore the possibility that ’Oumuamua could be an artifact.”
Last week, Breakthrough said it would listen to `Oumuamua for 10 hours across four radio bands to see if it was transmitting anything interesting. But these early observations turned up empty, with Breakthrough announcing this week that there were no continuous signals from the frequencies it observed.
Meanwhile, a separate study from Queen's researcher Michele Banister looked at the color of ’Oumuamua. Her team wrote in Astrophysical Journal Letters that ’Oumuamua is the same shade as some of the small, icy objects at the edge of our solar system. This means that planetary systems outside of our own solar system likely have small, icy objects as well.
“We’ve discovered that this is a planetesimal with a well-baked crust that looks a lot like the tiniest worlds in the outer regions of our solar system, has a greyish/red surface and is highly elongated,” Banister said in a statement. “It's fascinating that the first interstellar object discovered looks so much like a tiny world from our own home system. This suggests that the way our planets and asteroids formed has a lot of kinship to the systems around other stars.
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