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Continúa el enigma en torno a Oumuamua, el primer viajero interestelar: ¿de qué está hecho?

Oumuamua, el primer viajero interestelar captado por la tecnología humana, sigue siendo un misterio. Descubierto en 2017, este cuerpo de forma extrañamente alargada y que se aceleraba sin motivo aparente fue primero considerado un asteroide, después un cometa y hasta hubo teorías que apuntaban a que se trataba de una nave espacial varada. Ahora, un nuevo estudio publicado en «Astrophysical Journal Letters» intenta arrojar luz sobre su origen y composición, descartando que la estructura del primer objeto que cruza el Sistema Solar proveniente de otro vecindario cósmico diferente esté hecho de hielo de hidrógeno molecular, como apuntan las últimas teorías. Este año, un equipo sugería en un estudio anterior que podría ser un iceberg de hidrógeno molecular (H2). La investigación, realizada por Seligman & Laughlin con datos de las observaciones del Telescopio Espacial Spitzer, estableció límites estrictos sobre la desgasificación de moléculas basadas en carbono, sugiriendo precisamente que si el cuerpo era un iceberg de hidrógeno, el gas hidrógeno puro le habría dado el empuje, explicando la aceleración que los científicos no pueden responder y que, además, habría eludido la detección por parte de los instrumentos humanos. Sin embargo, ahora los expertos de Centro de Astrofísica de Harvard y Smithsonian (CfA) y del Instituto de Astronomía y Ciencias Espaciales de Corea (Kasi) refutan esta teoría, ya que según sus cálculos, un objeto así no podría haber hecho un viaje desde el espacio interestelar hasta nuestro Sistema Solar sin desintegrarse. «La propuesta de Seligman y Laughlin parecía prometedora porque podría explicar la forma alargada extrema de Oumuamua, así como la aceleración no gravitacional. Sin embargo, su teoría se basa en la suposición de que el hielo H2 podría formarse en densas nubes moleculares. Es cierto, los objetos de hielo de H2 podrían ser abundantes en el universo y, por lo tanto, tendrían implicaciones de gran alcance. El hielo de H2 también se propuso para explicar la materia oscura, un misterio de la astrofísica moderna», explica en un comunicado Thiem Hoang, investigador principal del grupo de astrofísica de KASI y autor principal del artículo. «Queríamos no sólo probar los supuestos de la teoría, sino también la proposición de la materia oscura» Por su parte, el controvertido Avi Loeb, profesor de ciencia Frank B. Baird en Harvard y coautor del artículo -así como uno de los impulsores de la teoría de que Oumuamua es una nave extraterrestre varada-, agregó: «Viajando a una velocidad de 196.000 mph en 2017 -momento en el que se descubrió este cuerpo por primera vez-, Oumuamua se clasificó por primera vez como un asteroide, y cuando luego aceleró, se descubrió que tenía propiedades más similares a las de los cometas. Pero el objeto interestelar de 0,2 kilómetros de radio tampoco encajaba en esa categoría, y su punto de origen sigue siendo un misterio». Así, los investigadores se centraron como posible candidata original en la nube molecular gigante (GMC) W51, una de las GMC más cercanas a la Tierra a solo 17.000 años luz. Pero según sus cálculos, sería imposible que Oumuamua hubiera realizado un viaje tan largo hasta el Sistema Solar de forma tan «entera». «El lugar más probable para hacer icebergs de hidrógeno es en los entornos más densos del medio interestelar. Se trata de nubes moleculares gigantes», dijo Loeb, confirmando que estos entornos están demasiado lejos y no son propicios para el desarrollo de icebergs de hidrógeno. Los autores del estudio consideran que los icebergs de hidrógeno no podrían sobrevivir a ese viaje, que probablemente supondría cientos de millones de años, porque «se evaporan demasiado rápido», indica Loeb. Si bien la naturaleza del viajero interestelar es actualmente un misterio sin resolver, Loeb sugiere que no lo seguirá siendo por mucho más tiempo, especialmente si no está solo. «Si Oumuamua es miembro de una población de objetos similares en trayectorias aleatorias, entonces el Observatorio Vera C. Rubin (VRO), que está programado empezar a funcionar el próximo año, debería detectar aproximadamente un objeto similar a Oumuamua cada mes». La comunidad científica espera resolver el enigma del primer viajero interestelar muy pronto.
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