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Oumuamua, the interstellar intruder that keeps causing bewilderment among scientists

Oumuamua is the first object discovered to visit us from interstellar space, and although it has been years since its discovery, it continues to cause bewilderment.

Oumuamua is an interstellar object that has challenged the understanding of astronomers. From the beginning, it gave indications of not being a standard body. It was even reclassified because it was first thought to be a comet; however, the lack of a bright tail, caused it to be reclassified as an asteroid.

But this is not the only strange feature of Oumuamua, the main one is that it is the first object from interstellar space to visit us from outside the Heliopause. It is the first intruder of which we are aware, although previously it had already been predicted that this type of object existed.

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Five years have already passed since its discovery, although the astonishment has not diminished in any sense. On the contrary, astronomers are increasingly amazed by the wandering behavior of the object and hope that it will help to find new intruders in the Solar System, as well as to learn how a rock of a size that reaches 200 meters could have been formed and also how it obtained its trajectory.

The discovery of a visitor from the outside

The now-classified asteroid Oumuamua is not at all similar to all other asteroids found by space agencies. It is the first object discovered from outside the Heliopause and, therefore, the first visitor to the Solar System from interstellar space.

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It was discovered on October 19, 2017, when it crossed close to Earth and then left the Solar System forever, just as it arrived from the outside. It was precisely this approach to Earth that allowed researchers to realize that such a body existed, otherwise the space intruder would have passed by, and astronomers would still not have discovered bodies from interstellar space.

But the discovery brought more questions than answers. First of all, experts wonder how these bodies, which we now know do exist, obtained their shape. There are several hypotheses in this regard, but all have to do with a primordial Solar System, where the planets were just forming, and it was at this time that several dozen rock masses of small icy bodies could have been expelled into the interstellar medium.

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In that sense, out there beyond the Heliopause, which is where the solar magnetic field and its plasma influx cease to have any influence, there would be quite a few drifting rocks. And although there were already hypotheses that this could happen, in the entire history of human space exploration, only two intrusive objects have been discovered from interstellar space, one is Oumuamua and the other is Borisov.

Why haven’t more intruders been discovered?

We have to think that the Solar System is a complex structure, which, like the Earth, has different layers covering it. We are in the regions closest to the Sun, but beyond Neptune, things start to get complicated.

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The Sun throws a series of materials that cross the entire Solar System, its winds which are a plethora of solar plasma and magnetic field influx travel great distances beyond the orbit of Neptune and the Kuiper Belt. But there comes a moment in which such magnitude in the speed of displacement of the plasma ends up collapsing and losing strength. This is the limit that we call Heliopause, which marks the beginning of interstellar space, not to be confused with intergalactic space, which is where the Solar System ends.

Bodies like Oumuamua inhabit beyond the Heliopause and are distributed throughout the vast field surrounding the Sun, which is why space probes and telescopes have been able to do little to detect them. Oumuamua was a special case as it crossed close to the Earth, which is the only reason why it was detected.

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But astronomers believe that with advancing technology and now with the James Webb telescope on their side, the rate of discovery of intrusive rocks will rise, and we will gradually understand more about what lies in icy interstellar space.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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