‘Um Muamuwa (broadly, Hawaii for “Scout”) is an object that was photographed in 2017, by our solar system. It’s not so unusual: asteroids run, comets from Haley to Kohotech Zoom, these things happen. But astronomers are fascinated with ‘um Muamuwa’ for some special reason.
First, we first noticed that it was already accelerating away from the solar system, which was already 30 million kilometers away from us. This means that it only appears for a short time, and astronomers had to examine it before it disappeared. That alone created the ‘Omuvamuwa Buzz’.
But more importantly, it is a strange object. Take its shape. Its brightness varies very rapidly and rapidly, astronomers have determined that it must have a strange shape. Why so? Imagine watching a spinning football while flying in the air. Whether it is near or too far, no matter how much it rotates, it still looks rounded. But now imagine a boomerang, it flips while flying. Clearly, its apparent size and shape vary. If both are made of a material that reflects sunlight, the brightness of the ball will appear more or less constant; The boomerang, however, goes up and down with its jerks. The same thing happened with ‘Omuwamuwa’, whose brightness varies by 10 factors over a period of about eight hours, and that variation indicated that it was cigar- or pancake-shaped.
Now most asteroids are usually round, but there are also those that are odd in shape. Totatis, for example, traveled only a million kilometers from us in 2004, almost like a dumbbell. But cigar or pancake? And a few hundred meters long, but only a tenth as wide – some 35 meters – Omuvamua may be a large cigar, but a small celestial object. Furthermore, the amount of light it reflects is many times greater than that of other asteroids and comets: why is it shining?
Then there is the way it moved. Comets zoom through our solar system, but they have distinctive tails made of dust and snow. This object has nothing to do with it. However it did burn the sun at a speed of 90 kilometers per second — in fact it exceeded the speed of a normal comet. What drove it to that speed? Also, while the comets follow a distinctive elliptical path, the ‘um Muamuwa path is an almost straight line. What does that mean?
However, many astronomers have concluded that ‘um Muamuwa is another rock, despite its odd shape and high speed and shiny surface. Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen’s University in Belfast stated: “This is a natural substance … pretty much a space cucumber.”
And there ‘um Muamuwa story may be over.
Unless some astronomers doubt this conclusion. Prominent among them was Abraham Loeb of Harvard University. In articles, scientific papers and now the new book (Alien: The first sign of an intelligent life beyond Earth), ‘um Muamuwa really … he suggests that the spaceship sent by an alien civilization.
Yes: alien intelligence.
All its observed features contributed to that impression on Loib. But he noted that a particular “eyebrow-raising bit of data” was even more bizarre. A comet’s path through our solar system is largely maintained by how the Sun’s gravity acts on the comet. It accurately predicts its path and when it will reach the Sun and will appear from Earth (Holy Comet? July 2061). However ‘as I briefly mentioned above the Omuwamuwa way is very different. Um Mwamuwa, which does not fully explain its movement.
So what does that do?
There is a Rashomon-like attribute to how astronomers have answered that question. When submitted with different explanations for a mysterious phenomenon, no doubt you have heard that the Acoms razor applies: the simplest explanation is the most correct. With ‘Omuwamuwa’, many astronomers chose to believe this rock as it was determined whether it was a strange rock or a spaceship built by aliens. Because, for them, the simplest explanation is a rock. Needless to say who built the spaceship, how it fueled it, who was traveling in it and much more. It helps to explain why the whole search for alien intelligence (SETI) has always had a fair share of skeptics. It seems hard to fully grasp another brilliant idea, almost like a fancy flight, a leap of faith.
But to Loeb, Acoms Razor applied in exactly the opposite way: ‘um Muamuwa, the simplest explanation for Loeb’s belief is that it was created and sent by an alien civilization somewhere. Do we ever know which of these is correct?
Well, it “depends” on us. We can no longer examine ‘um Muamuwa, that’s for sure. (Or at least not from where we are sitting today, but hold on to that idea). What is left is the evidence or, in this case, attitudes toward the evidence, how we understand the evidence. What Loeb did with an element in it, reacted unexpectedly to the sun’s gravity. Specifically, how fast it accelerated to its greatest speed left us with it.
Loeb thinks this is due to “radiation pressure from the sun”. In effect, ‘um Muamuwa is like a ship, a thin sheet spread out wide enough to catch, the “solar wind” from us in any corner of the universe, the sun. It is the photons of light that flow from the sun. Adequate light object can move forward through such a flow. In space, ‘um Mwamuwa, though actually such a “lightsail”, is capable of pushing at a higher speed than any other engine — however the speed demonstrated by Omwamu.
Understand that this is not out of science fiction. The Breakthrough Starshot program, coincidentally with Lob’s advice, has already sent samples of such crafts into space using an Indian rocket. (See my column “To Take Us to the Little Stars”, 5 August 2017, bit.ly/3lNTnjT). Sails are not natural creations; On and around Earth, what you find is man-made. So, if we humans are thinking and now building boats to catch solar winds, why shouldn’t another civilization do so?
It is true that Loib greets ideas with skepticism. But after all, science must progress. However, Loeb is unquestionable. In an article in Scientific American, ‘um Muamuwa’s very unfamiliar “has the potential to lead to a dramatic new era in space science,” he writes.
In that vein, he explained to us a fascinating challenge to humans. ‘Um Muamuwa has disappeared in the dark, but “it will take thousands of years to completely abandon the solar system”. It gives us time and a unique opportunity: “Looking closer [at ‘Oumuamua] Flyby will make it possible to develop new technology for faster space travel in a decade or two. “
Carl Sagan once said: “Extraordinary arguments require extraordinary evidence”. Take it a little further and think about it: ‘um What can we learn from this extraordinary mission to capture Muamuwa?
Dilip D’Souza, once a computer scientist, now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinners. His Twitter handle is DeathEndSfun