- Various initiatives to intercept interstellar objects have sprung up after Oumuamua’s discovery.
- NASA and SpaceX are working on an interstellar mission due to launch in October 2024.
- A new study suggested Oumuamua could be a chunk of a planet from a different solar system.
The first known interstellar object, Oumuamua, was spotted on October 19, 2017.
Just under two years later, another external visitor was discovered, later christened 2I/Borisov.
Interstellar objects have since attracted a great deal of curiosity.
A study by the Initiative for Interstellar Studies claimed that roughly seven interstellar objects enter the solar system every year — as a result, scientists have been working on missions to intercept them.
In an email to Universe Today, Andreas Hein of the Initiative for Interstellar Studies said interstellar objects “will also shed light on the inventory and abundances of prebiotic molecules inherent in these objects. In the highly optimistic scenario, they might even reveal traces of extinct (or extant) life in the form of molecular biosignatures.”
Missions to intercept interstellar objects
Since Oumuamua, various initiatives have sprung up to study interstellar objects, including the i4is researchers’ Lyra project and studies by NASA and SpaceX.
However, i4is researchers are well aware that current technology is limited. “Voyager 1, the fastest object humanity has ever built, has a hyperbolic excess velocity of 16.6 km/s,” they stated in their study. “As 1I/’Oumuamua is already leaving our solar system, any spacecraft launched in the future would need to chase it.”
In September 2020, NASA selected Elon Musk-led SpaceX to provide launch services for its Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP).
The mission is expected to launch in October 2024.
Last month, NASA announced it would also collaborate with SpaceX on SPHEREx, a new $99 million project that will map the creation of the universe.
In 2019, the European Space Agency also announced a new project called “Comet Interceptor” which aims to travel to a comet that has not yet been discovered.
A team working on an initiative called Breakthrough Starshot and that had previously collaborated with the late Stephen Hawking is also developing a 100-gigawatt laser to propel a probe to another star system.