Seven “alien space rocks” can pass through our solar system each year. Should we intercept one?

Many astronomers are looking for aliens. That’s why we hear so much about exoplanets – and the more Earth-like they are, the more interesting they become.

There is also the generously funded $ 100 million Hear the breakthrough Scientific research project has radio astronomers listening to messages from the 1,000,000 stars closest to Earth and the 100 closest galaxies.

So the idea that our solar system can be visited by up to seven interstellar objects each year should fascinate anyone interested in SETI – the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Not that the “extrasolar” objects passing through our solar system are cutting edge technology, a wild theory advanced by Professor Avi Loeb about ‘Oumuamua (also known as 1I / 2017 U1), the first known interstellar object. detected in 2017.

‘Oumuamua is not an artificial creation of an advanced civilization, but that does not make it uninteresting. Discovered on October 19, 2017 by the Pan-STARRS1 Near-Earth Object Survey, “Oumuamua challenged the assumptions of astronomers about the appearance of small bodies from another star system. It moved too fast to be an asteroid, in fact it was accelerating, it left no trail of debris – so couldn’t be an icy comet – and it also varied in brightness.

Does all of this make Oumuamua an alien spaceship? No, this is not the case. ‘Oumuamua was found as he was leaving the solar system. It was a spectacular find, but it was weak. It was only observed for a short time. We haven’t had a lot of data on this. For such a unique item, it was frustrating. After all, missions to other star systems are multi-generational.

The data we obtained were consistent with a purely natural origin for ‘Oumuamua; it varied in brightness because it had an odd sausage shape and was spinning, and for the same reason it heated unevenly, which might explain its acceleration. Like a paper says, “Oumuamua is fully explainable as a fragment expelled from its parent planetary system by gravitational interaction at any point in the history of the galaxy.

Yet the same scientists who were intrigued by ‘Oumuamua – and in 2018 by another interstellar visitor, “rogue comet” 2l / Borisov – would like to put their telescopes on as many visitors from other star systems as possible.

Cue a paper which uses data from the Gaia satellite to predict that seven rapidly moving objects from another star system – like ‘Oumuamua – are expected to pass within 1 AU (astronomical unit) of the Sun each year. One AU is the distance from Earth to the Sun. The article also predicts that interstellar comets like 2I / Borisov could be a single event per decade, and that three objects per century could even come from other galaxies.

Sky-wide synoptic surveys such as the Vera C. Rubin Observatory are expected to uncover several interstellar intruders per year. However, it was only if they were detected early – long before Oumuamua was – that such an object could be visited by a spacecraft.

“We are proposing an interception mission for interesting interstellar intruders who would be ready to be launched in case a target of opportunity arises,” reads a NASA-sponsored article. published earlier this month on the search for “techno-signatures” of extraterrestrial civilizations. “If the target is detected with sufficient time, thanks to the new survey facilities, it may be possible to catch it within 20 years. ”

To catch these extremely fast objects, a spaceship would have to be launched as the object rounded the Sun. Astronomers would therefore need to spot such an object as it entered the solar system, which the Vera C. Rubin Observatory might be able to do.

An “interstellar sample return mission” is exactly what the USNC is proposing, which is currently powering NASA’s Perseverance rover on the Martian surface. Awarded a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Phase 1 Grant, his idea is to use a plutonium-powered spacecraft to catch up with an extrasolar object, collect a sample, and return to Earth within a decade.

Such a mission has the potential to radically change what we know about our place in the Universe. After all, a mission to intercept an interstellar object passing through our solar system could yield results similar to those of interstellar travel – something that could take several centuries to launch, let alone produce results.

Sometimes it’s better to wait for the Universe to come to you.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

Arline J. Mercier

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