‘Oumuamua points to plethora of interstellar objects

An artist’s conception shows what the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua might look like. (ESO Illustration / M. Kornmesser)

The cigar-shaped object known as ‘Oumuamua may be the first interstellar interloper to be discovered, but it’s not likely to be the last. Statistics suggest that there are lots more space rocks like it out there.

How many? About 100 septillion in our Milky Way galaxy, according to Yale astronomer Gregory Laughlin, who has analyzed the light curve and weird orbit of ‘Oumuamua — a Hawaiian word that basically means “first messenger from afar.”

That number is a 1 followed by 26 zeroes.

Laughlin arrived at that estimate by extrapolating from the observational capabilities of the Pan-STARRS Telescope in Hawaii, the instrument that first detected the object back in October 2017.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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