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Oumuamua catches the collective eye – again

Again Oumuamua is in the news, as an astro-chemist throws cold water on a tenuous theory – and an influencer leaps to conclusions.

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Comet Oumuamua, the longest-period comet ever observed, has long since departed our solar system. But questions remain – because no one, looking at this object, can make up his mind what it is or was. Recently another scientist released a paper saying only that one theory to explain its behavior, won’t wash. Immediately a popular YouTube influencer jumped on that finding to say, “There! You see! It’s not a comet, and not an asteroid! It’s an alien probe!” The scientist he quoted would probably not be happy to hear such an “un-nuanced” speculation. But even he can never grasp what Oumuamua really represents, without discarding a bedrock assumption of conventional science.

Which, sadly, is that we are lucky (or unlucky) products of a cosmic roulette cast billions of years ago. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, we ought to make some effort to understand that the evidence, far from disproving the Account of His Birth and Mission, actually supports it.

Observations about Oumuamua, and the problems they create

Oumuamua (Ooh-MOO-wah-MOO-wah) (Hawaiian: “scout”) likely began entering (or reentering) our solar system early in 2015. Astronomers at the Haleakalā Observatory didn’t notice it until October 19, 2017 – when it was already heading back out. It follows an apparently hyperbolic path, which would make it the first-ever suspected interstellar object. It must have passed perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on September 9, 2017. By now it’s long gone, far too dim to observe. By the time anyone had seen it, it was too late even to plan a mission to send a probe to fly in formation with it.

Oumuamua is supposed to have started into our system from the Galactic Standard of Rest. This is a frame of reference equivalent to the Galaxy itself as it spins about its core. But the source of the most fevered speculation about it is its “non-gravitational acceleration.” It traveled faster by 17 meters per second than it had before – without passing any bodies that could have accelerated it by gravity. The speed difference works out to 38 miles per hour, or 33 knots.

No one can yet explain what accelerated that object, if it didn’t pass close enough to a planet. But that hasn’t stopped astronomers from trying.


Three competing theories

Abraham “Avi” Loeb insists that Oumuamua is a light-sail craft. Late in 2018 he published his paper explaining his thesis. It’s either a lighe-sail craft, or a broken piece of a Dyson Sphere. Most of his scientific colleagues heap scorn on him even for believing that extraterrestrial aliens exist.

On Wednesday March 22, Jennifer Bergner and Darryl Seligman published their theory in the journal Nature. They conclude that Oumuamua is a comet – specifically a water-ice comet that underwent thermolysis to form molecular hydrogen and oxygen.This thermolysis allegedly occurred in interstellar space.As Oumuamua passed incredibly close to the Sun, it released its hydrogen load. That release propelled it on its outbound leg, when the Hawaii astronomers first saw it.

Loeb discounted that theory from its first appearance – and now, perhaps, he can claim some small measure of vindication. Niels Ligterink of the University of Bern, in reply to Bergner and Seligman, says hydrogen outgassing is very difficult to reconcile with observations. On November 30, he sat for an interview with Brigit Bucher, also of the University of Bern.

Ligterink knew at once that the observed acceleration would require an enormous amount of hydrogen. He and his team tried to simulate hydrogen formation in interstellar space. This would require an age of at least a billion years, and an icy surface with methanol and ammonia, not water ice alone. Astronomers have never seen any object with such composition among the Mavericks of the Solar System.

But is it a space probe? Not so fast!

Ligterink is willing to speculate that Oumuamua is an active space probe – he even says the possibility excites him. But he does not consider that likely. Furthermore:


Unfortunately, some astronomers have hijacked this debate for personal gain with un-nuanced scientific work.

He didn’t name any names, but he might well be talking about Avi Loeb.

Ligterink’s work is in trying to understand the “icy moons” of the solar system, particularly Europa (Jupiter) and Enceladus (Saturn).

The physical characteristics of Oumuamua make it even less likely to be a spacecraft. It measures 120 meters (nearly 400 feet) in length – or diameter. The full set of physical dimensions make it a disk, not a “cigar.” But apparently it tumbles, instead of spinning like a top. Furthermore, radio telescopes designed to listen for alien signals have detected no such signals from this object.

Nevertheless, Jordan “The Angry Astronaut” Wright seized upon the Ligterink paper to shout, “See? I told you so!”

Wright included an artist’s concept of Oumuamua as a metal probe tied with shrouds to a gigantic light “spinnaker.” (As sailors know, a spinnaker is a sail strongly resembling a parachute, that one deploys when running before the wind.) He also said flatly, “It’s official! Oumuamua is neither comet nor asteroid!” That is not what Ligterink said. He said an object producing enough hydrogen to accelerate it as proposed, would have an composition radically unlike any asteroid or comet thus far observed.


So what is Oumuamua?

CNAV returns to its original theory – that Oumuamua is a long-period comet, now returned to Earth. Fifty-four hundred years ago (give or take a century) came the most violent event Earth has ever known: the Flood. That event was violent enough to eject four percent of the Earth’s substance into space. That substance, consisting of water, rock and mud, formed the Mavericks of the Solar System. It also formed:

  • The moons of Mars, Jupiter (except the Galileans), Saturn (except Titan), Uranus, and Neptune,
  • Dwarf planets Pluto and Charon and their four known co-orbiting satellites,
  • Dwarf planet Eris and its one known satellite, and
  • All meteoroids, comets, asteroids, and trans-Neptunian objects.

The oldest candidate date for the Global Flood is 3344 BC. If Oumuamua formed from material launched in that year, then in 663 BC it would have reached aphelion (the farthest-away point from the Sun). Aphelion, for a long-period comet, would be at or close to the Galactic Standard of Rest. Then it would start to fall back, to arrive in 2017. On its way in, it would leave behind several other objects that originally slowed it to an elliptical orbit. This explains the hyperbolic orbit astronomers observed. And the acceleration would be due, not to hydrogen outgassing but to water outgassing. This theory would not depend on thermolysis or radiolysis of hydrogen-bearing compounds like methanol or ammonia.


Jordan Wright, with all the respect due him, is in a spiritually dark place. Refusing to believe in a beneficent God, he actually prefers to believe in a maleficent, or else negligent, alien civilization. A civilization that, for whatever reason, stationed a buoy outside our solar system. Yet it could build gigantic and powerful radio lighthouses that, he says, are the pulsars we see today. So that “buoy” was no navigational aid, but an automatic spy station that sent a spy balloon to reconnoiter Earth six years ago. (Oh, those Chinese must be pea-green with envy! Their spy balloon didn’t get away!)

Christmas is coming. It might not be the exact anniversary of the birth of Christ, but it will do for our purpose. Which is to wish everyone a truly Merry Christmas, in the full confidence that an Infinite God created us – and loves us, despite our failings.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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