Oumuamua - a cigar-like object that has piqued curiosities since it left our solar system fully retaining its shape - could have been ripped from another planet in an elaborate fragmentation process, new research by US and Chinese universities suggests, dwelling on how their study may contribute to research on planetary and life evolution. The findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy, while the press release is featured on the UC Santa Cruz official website.
As proven by the simulation, Oumuamua wasn't created by any intelligent aliens, like was previously claimed by a few budding and professional astronomers, as well as conspiracy theorists. However, it has been found that it may well transport the building blocks of life around the universe, like comets it may pick up matter conducive to life as they pass through habitable zones and seed it when they collide with planets, under a theory known as panspermia.
"This is a very new field. These interstellar objects could provide critical clues about how planetary systems form and evolve", the lead author of the study Yun Zhang said.
Thermal modelling has led scientists to believe that the surface of what was once deemed as weird cosmic rubble would be heated, melting any ice in its inner section, to further condense and solidify once in deep space, so that the object eventually maintains a protruded shape.
"We showed that Oumuamua-like interstellar objects can be produced through extensive tidal fragmentation during close encounters of their parent bodies with their host stars, and then ejected into interstellar space", University of California - Santa Cruz astronomer Douglas N.C. Lin explained in a release.
The simulations show that the object's violent encounter with a distant star could dry it out to the point that it contains too few volatile chemical compounds to produce a coma - a cloud around the nucleus - ike a comet's, but could leave it with some water ice buried inside.
In a nutshell, when an object like a comet, some cosmic debris, or even a planet exceeding Earth in size travels close enough to a star, the gravitational force of the star could tear it into elongated fragments that get released into interstellar space in the process.
“Heat diffusion during the stellar tidal disruption process also consumes large amounts of volatiles, which not only explains Oumuamua’s surface colours and the absence of visible coma, but also elucidates the inferred dryness of the interstellar population", Zhang stated.
“Nevertheless, some high-sublimation-temperature volatiles buried under the surface, like water ice, can remain in a condensed form".
According to Zhang from the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the discovery of Oumuamua implies that rocky interstellar objects may occur in greater numbers than previously thought.
The body - the first object ever spotted entering our solar system from beyond - was discovered and dubbed Oumuamua back in 2017.