The first interstellar object detected in our own Solar System, ‘Oumuamua has a pleasing name, translating from the Hawaiian as something like ‘far visitor first to arrive,’ or words to that effect. It’s also proven a frustrating catch ever since detected by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on Haleakala, Hawaii during a search for near-Earth asteroids. We’ve put telescope resources on Earth and in space on the object, but our observing time is up.
For ‘Oumuamua is now well on its way out of the Solar System, so we’re left to massage the data we have in hopes of gaining new insights. Davide Farnocchia (Center for Near Earth Object Studies, JPL) encapsulates the issue:
“Usually, if we get a measurement from a comet that’s kind of weird, we go back and measure it again until we understand what we’re seeing. But this one is gone forever; we probably know as much about it as we’re ever going to know.”
Thus Avi Loeb’s recent paper with Shmuel Bialy discussing the object’s acceleration in terms of solar radiation pressure — could it be a technological artifact? — and continued work on the issue of cometary outgassing to explain its anomalous ...