A new study by scientists Vo Hong Minh Phan, Thiem Hoang and Abraham Loeb concludes that cosmic rays generate different degrees of erosion in unidentified interstellar objects, such as the mysterious Oumuamua. Even the alien probe that crossed the Solar System in 2017 could disintegrate before we can determine some of its characteristics.
The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was published on arXiv. According to a Article published in Universe Today, Oumuamua would have had larger dimensions at the time of his departure, reducing in size over time from the erosive action of cosmic rays.
According to the scientists’ vision, unidentified objects or icy interstellar visitors that may be discovered in the future would suffer the same fate as Oumuamua. So far, in addition to this huge probe, only one other interstellar object (ISO) has visited our Solar System: 2I / Borisov.
However, there is a third object that can probably be qualified as a interstellar visitor, named CNEOS 2014-01-08. At the same time, different researchers believe that there should be many more: it is only necessary to search for them methodically with the support of new observation technologies that will be operational in the coming years, such as the Vera Rubin Observatory facilities.
Frozen visitors and cosmic rays
The specialists analyzed in their research four different types of elements that could be part of the structure of interstellar objects: nitrogen (N2), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Subsequently, they considered the impact of cosmic rays on the interstellar medium and their erosion effect on these icy structures. They also took into account possible collisions between objects and the influence of ambient gas.
Apparently the strength of the cosmics rays reaching the Milky Way would have a powerful impact on these objects, considerably reducing their life cycle and considerably “shrinking” them over time. In addition, they indicated that if the unidentified object travels at a slower speed, it could receive the “aggression” of cosmic rays for a longer time, thus being more affected.
Cosmic rays are subatomic particles from outer space whose energy is extremely high, mainly due to their great speed. Little is known about them yet: there is still no consensus as to their origin and what specific function they fulfill within cosmological processes.
For the authors of the new study, it is urgent to know more about cosmic rayscosmics rays in order to determine the actual impact they have on interstellar objects and other cosmic structures. The research is recent, but new technologies promise to reach more definitions in the near future.
A big question to solve
As for the unidentified interstellar objects like Oumuamua, we know practically nothing. It has not yet been possible to specify the materials that make up its structure or its origin, although some indications indicate that it could come from the constellation of Lyra.
In 2029, the ESA Comet Interceptor mission could provide valuable information. It will be located at a strategic point to wait three years for the arrival of a long-period comet, in order to study it. But if the comet does not arrive, it could be used to investigate an interstellar object that is positioned in its zone of influence.
In the same vein, the Lyra Project from Interstellar Studies Initiative plans to launch a spacecraft that could be sent to visit unidentified interstellar objects, employing advanced systems such as nuclear propulsion. Will we be close to learning more about these mysterious frozen visitors?
Erosion of Icy Interstellar Objects by Cosmic Rays and Implications for ‘Oumuamua. Vo Hong Minh Phan, Thiem Hoang and Abraham Loeb. arXiv (2021).
Photo: the interstellar object Oumuamua, which crossed the Solar System in 2017. Credit: European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser / NASA.
Video: Fraser Cain en YouTube.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.