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Astronomers to check interstellar body for signs of alien technology

Lark

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Jun 21, 2009
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29,641
How horribly disappointing that would be. Do they also listen to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga? I’d rather talk to the alien bacteria. I’m sure the conversation would be more stimulating.

If you think Roman Catholics and Marxists can make stimulating conversation you are mistaken. :)
 

yeghor

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Dec 21, 2013
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3,003
The team concluded that Oumuamua was likely to be a chunk of nitrogen ice, which was chipped off the surface of a Pluto-like exoplanet around a young star. Based on the evolution of our own solar system, which started out with thousands of similar planets in the icy neighbourhood of the Kuiper belt, they suggested that the fragment may have broken off around half a billion years ago.

"Eventually Neptune moved through that region and ejected a lot of the material – and this happened very early on," says Desch. They suggest that 'Oumuamua has been travelling around the frigid, barren expanse of deep space ever since.

Though the object would have finally reached the very outermost edge of the Solar System many years ago, it would have taken a long time to travel to the balmy, central region where it was first discovered – and been gradually worn down into a pancake as it approached. This explains its unusual shape and its acceleration in one go, because the evaporating nitrogen would have left an invisible tail that propelled it forwards. "Our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and you can see though it," says Jackson. "Nitrogen gas is difficult to detect."

Then not long after 'Oumuamua appeared, something unexpected happened: they found another one.

On 30 August 2019, the engineer and amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov glimpsed an object moving against the predawn sky from his personal observatory in Nauchnyi, Crimea – using a telescope he had made himself. Even at first sight, he realised it was special – it was travelling in a different direction to the comets that inhabit the main asteroid belt that straddles the Solar System.

2I/Borisov was named in its discoverer's honour, and is suspected to be a rogue comet – one that's not bound to a star. So where did these visitors come from? What can they tell us about alien solar systems? And how often should we expect to see them?

Luckily, 2I/Borisov has turned out to be emphatically less difficult to decipher than its cosmic companion. It's been recognised as the first interstellar comet ever found. Much like those lingering at the outer edges of the Solar System, 2I/Borisov is thought to have been composed of a muddy mixture of water, dust, and carbon monoxide. It had a visible tail and was more or less what scientists were expecting. If anything, 2I/Borisov makes 'Oumuamua seem even weirder.

2I/Borisov is thought to have been ripped from an ancient solar system centred around a red dwarf star, the dimmest and most abundant type in our galaxy. Based on its speed and trajectory, one international team has tentatively calculated that it might have originated around the star Ross 573 – now a white dwarf – which inhabits a region of space around 629 trillion miles (965 trillion km) away from the Sun. They suggest that it was ejected into space after the violent collision of three large objects in this celestial neighbourhood around 900,000 years ago.

However, Jackson is dubious. "We don't know which specific star system 2I/Borisov came from, it's been travelling for too long to track back to an individual system," he says. "But because Borisov looks more like a solar system comet, we would expect that it came from the cloud of comets within its parent system, wherever that is."

Meanwhile, more recent research – made after the discovery of 2I/Borisov – suggests that there are around 50 interstellar objects at least 50meter in radius in our solar system at any given time.

Loeb's hope is that the telescope will identify the next interstellar object when it is on its way into our solar system, with enough warning that we have time to send a spacecraft to intercept it and take a closer look. He cites the Osiris-Rex mission, which launched in September 2016 and has already successfully travelled to the asteroid Bennu, more than 200 million miles (321 million km) from Earth. It's currently on its way back, due to return with photographs and samples in 2023.

"And that will tell us if it's artificial, or, or natural," says Loeb. "And, of course, if it looks artificial, that will be very interesting. And we could land on it, and even read off the labels ‘Made on Planet X’."


The visitors from deep space baffling scientists - BBC Future
 
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