Interstellar objects may disappear before they get close to Earth

Although astronomers’ estimates say that there are many interstellar objects “walking around” in our Solar System, only two have been identified so far: ‘Oumuamua and comet 2I/Borisov. It’s just that, in addition to being difficult to find them, they may not even survive long enough to get close to Earth.

  • This hypothesis about the Oumuamua may finally explain the interstellar object
  • Why speculate that the Oumuamua would be an alien spacecraft? Here’s what we know
  • Interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov may be the purest ever seen; understand

According to new research, interstellar objects can erode by cosmic rays — atomic nuclei, made up of protons and neutrons, which travel in space at speeds close to that of light. If true, the ‘Oumuamua was probably much larger when it began its journey through the Milky Way.

Four types of ice were analyzed: nitrogen (N2), carbon monoxide (CO), dioxide of carbon (CO2) and methane (CH4). The study authors sought to find out whether these types of space objects could survive cosmic rays in the interstellar medium. They also considered erosion caused by collisions between objects and the ambient gas.

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In addition to these elements that objects encounter along the way, there are other variables, such as the flux and strength of cosmic rays, factors that can determine how much erosion will occur on the ice boulders. Likewise, ambient gas can also travel in varying flows, with varying density and strength, which will result in different rates of deterioration of objects. Finally, each type of ice erodes at different rates.

Timeline of the ‘Oumuamua, according to the nitrogen ice hypothesis (Image: Reproduction/S. Selkirk/ASU)

Nitrogen ice is an important object of study in this type of research, as astronomers suspect that the Oumuamua was just that — a huge chunk of N2 ice, ripped from a Pluto-like planet in a star system far from Earth. Sol. If so, the original size of this visitor would be between -40 km. The interval of km shows the degree of uncertainty because we do not know the force and flow of cosmic rays that the Oumuamua encountered in its journey.

With this little information and some assumptions about the origin of the objects, researchers can infer other things, such as the distance covered by the Oumuamua. If the formation mechanisms for interstellar objects inform the object’s initial radius, it is possible to define the distance from their origins based on the object’s velocity.

Far from conclusive, the study suggests research to expand our knowledge of cosmic rays, which seem to be a determining factor in the survival of interstellar objects, as well as to determine their origins if we encounter other visitors from distant stars. It’s estimated that there are billions of them traveling through our galaxy, so it’s just a matter of time to find many more.

Source: ScienceAlert

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