skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on October 1, 2024

Title: X-Rays Trace the Volatile Content of Interstellar Objects

The nondetection of a coma surrounding 1I/‘Oumuamua, the first discovered interstellar object (ISO), has prompted a variety of hypotheses to explain its nongravitational acceleration. Given that forthcoming surveys are poised to identify analogs of this enigmatic object, it is prudent to devise alternative approaches to characterization. In this study, we posit X-ray spectroscopy as a surprisingly effective probe of volatile ISO compositions. Heavily ionized metals in the solar wind interact with outgassed neutrals and emit high-energy photons in a process known as charge exchange, and charge-exchange-induced X-rays from comets and planetary bodies have been observed extensively in our solar system. We develop a model to predict the X-ray flux of an ISO based on its chemical inventory and ephemeris. We find that while standard cometary constituents, such as H2O, CO2, CO, and dust, are best probed via optical or infrared observations, we predict strong X-ray emission generated by charge exchange with extended comae of H2and N2—species that lack strong infrared fluorescence transitions. We find that XMM-Newton would have been sensitive to charge exchange emission from 1I/‘Oumuamua during the object’s close approach to Earth, and that constraints on composition may have been feasible. We argue for follow-up X-ray observations of newly discovered ISOs with close-in perihelia. Compositional constraints on the general ISO population could reconcile the apparently self-conflicting nature of 1I/‘Oumuamua and provide insight into the earliest stages of planet formation in extrasolar systems.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    In this paper, we present an open-source software (Simulator of Asteroid Malformation Under Stress,SAMUS) that simulates constant-density, constant-viscosity liquid bodies subject to tidal forces for a range of assumed viscosities and sizes. This software solves the Navier–Stokes equations on a finite-element mesh, incorporating the centrifugal, Coriolis, self-gravitational, and tidal forces. The primary functionality is to simulate the deformation of minor bodies under the influence of tidal forces. It may therefore be used to constrain the composition and physical structure of bodies experiencing significant tidal forces, such as 99942 Apophis and 1I/‘Oumuamua. We demonstrate thatSAMUSwill be useful to constrain the material properties of Apophis during its near-Earth flyby in 2029. Depending on the material properties, Apophis may experience an area change of up to 0.5%, with similar effects on the photometric brightness. We also applySAMUSto constrain the material dynamic viscosity of 1I/‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object discovered traversing the inner solar system. ‘Oumuamua experienced a close approach to the Sun at perihelion (q≃ 0.25 au) during which there were significant tidal forces that may have caused deformation of the body. This deformation could have lead to observable changes in the photometric light curve based on the material properties. The application ofSAMUSto produce synthetic observations which incorporate tidal deformation effects demonstrates that no deformation—an infinite dynamic viscosity—best reproduces the photometric data. While these results indicate that ‘Oumuamua did not experience significant tidal deformation, a sophisticated model incorporating nonprincipal axis rotation is necessary to conclusively analyze both ‘Oumuamua and Apophis.

    more » « less
  2. Interstellar interlopers are bodies formed outside of the Solar System but observed passing through it. The first two identified interlopers, 1I/‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov, exhibited unexpectedly different physical properties. 1I/‘Oumuamua appeared unresolved and asteroid-like, whereas 2I/Borisov was a more comet-like source of both gas and dust. Both objects moved under the action of nongravitational acceleration. These interlopers and their divergent properties provide our only window so far onto an enormous and previously unknown galactic population. The number density of such objects is ∼0.1 AU−3which, if uniform across the galactic disk, would imply 1025to 1026similar objects in the Milky Way. The interlopers likely formed in, and were ejected from, the protoplanetary disks of young stars. However, we currently possess too little data to firmly reject other explanations.

    ▪ 1I/‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov are both gravitationally unbound, subkilometer bodies showing nongravitational acceleration. ▪ The acceleration of 1I/‘Oumuamua in the absence of measurable mass loss requires either a strained explanation in terms of recoil from sublimating supervolatiles or the action of radiation pressure on a nucleus with an ultralow mass column density, ∼1 kg m−2. ▪ 2I/Borisov is a strong source of CO and H2O, which together account for its activity and nongravitational acceleration. ▪ The interlopers are most likely planetesimals from the protoplanetary disks of other stars, ejected by gravitational scattering from planets. 1I/‘Oumuamua and 2I/Borisov have dynamical ages ∼108and ∼109years, respectively. ▪ Forthcoming observatories should detect interstellar interlopers every year, which will provide a rapid boost to our knowledge of the population.

    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    We present a multiline survey of the interstellar medium (ISM) in two z  > 6 quasar host galaxies, PJ231−20 ( z  = 6.59) and PJ308−21 ( z  = 6.23), and their two companion galaxies. Observations were carried out using the Atacama Large (sub-)Millimeter Array (ALMA). We targeted 11 transitions including atomic fine-structure lines (FSLs) and molecular lines: [NII] 205 μm , [CI] 369 μm , CO ( J up  = 7, 10, 15, 16), H 2 O 3 12  − 2 21 , 3 21  − 3 12 , 3 03  − 2 12 , and the OH 163 μm doublet. The underlying far-infrared (FIR) continuum samples the Rayleigh-Jeans tail of the respective dust emission. By combining this information with our earlier ALMA [CII] 158 μm observations, we explored the effects of star formation and black hole feedback on the ISM of the galaxies using the CLOUDY radiative transfer models. We estimated dust masses, spectral indexes, IR luminosities, and star-formation rates from the FIR continuum. The analysis of the FSLs indicates that the [CII] 158 μm and [CI] 369 μm emission arises predominantly from the neutral medium in photodissociation regions (PDRs). We find that line deficits agree with those of local luminous IR galaxies. The CO spectral line energy distributions (SLEDs) reveal significant high- J CO excitation in both quasar hosts. Our CO SLED modeling of the quasar PJ231−20 shows that PDRs dominate the molecular mass and CO luminosities for J up  ≤ 7, while the J up  ≥ 10 CO emission is likely driven by X-ray dissociation regions produced by the active galactic nucleus (AGN) at the very center of the quasar host. The J up  > 10 lines are undetected in the other galaxies in our study. The H 2 O 3 21  − 3 12 line detection in the same quasar places this object on the L H 2 O  −  L TIR relation found for low- z sources, thus suggesting that this water vapor transition is predominantly excited by IR pumping. Models of the H 2 O SLED and of the H 2 O-to-OH 163 μm ratio point to PDR contributions with high volume and column density ( n H  ∼ 0.8 × 10 5 cm −3 , N H  = 10 24 cm −2 ) in an intense radiation field. Our analysis suggests a less highly excited medium in the companion galaxies. However, the current data do not allow us to definitively rule out an AGN in these sources, as suggested by previous studies of the same objects. This work demonstrates the power of multiline studies of FIR diagnostics in order to dissect the physical conditions in the first massive galaxies emerging from cosmic dawn. 
    more » « less
  4. We investigate the molecular gas content of z  ∼ 6 quasar host galaxies using the Institut de Radioastronomie Millimétrique Northern Extended Millimeter Array. We targeted the 3 mm dust continuum, and the line emission from CO(6–5), CO(7–6), and [C  I ] 2−1 in ten infrared–luminous quasars that have been previously studied in their 1 mm dust continuum and [C  II ] line emission. We detected CO(7–6) at various degrees of significance in all the targeted sources, thus doubling the number of such detections in z  ∼ 6 quasars. The 3 mm to 1 mm flux density ratios are consistent with a modified black body spectrum with a dust temperature T dust  ∼ 47 K and an optical depth τ ν  = 0.2 at the [C  II ] frequency. Our study provides us with four independent ways to estimate the molecular gas mass, M H2 , in the targeted quasars. This allows us to set constraints on various parameters used in the derivation of molecular gas mass estimates, such as the mass per luminosity ratios α CO and α [CII] , the gas-to-dust mass ratio δ g/d , and the carbon abundance [C]/H 2 . Leveraging either on the dust, CO, [C  I ], or [C  II ] emission yields mass estimates of the entire sample in the range M H2  ∼ 10 10 –10 11 M ⊙ . We compared the observed luminosities of dust, [C  II ], [C  I ], and CO(7–6) with predictions from photo-dissociation and X-ray dominated regions. We find that the former provide better model fits to our data, assuming that the bulk of the emission arises from dense ( n H  > 10 4 cm −3 ) clouds with a column density N H  ∼ 10 23 cm −2 , exposed to a radiation field with an intensity of G 0  ∼ 10 3 (in Habing units). Our analysis reiterates the presence of massive reservoirs of molecular gas fueling star formation and nuclear accretion in z  ∼ 6 quasar host galaxies. It also highlights the power of combined 3 mm and 1 mm observations for quantitative studies of the dense gas content in massive galaxies at cosmic dawn. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    In this paper, we investigate the nonprincipal axis (NPA) rotational state of 1I/‘Oumuamua—the first interstellar object discovered traversing the inner solar system—from its photometric light curve. Building upon Mashchenko, we develop a model which incorporates NPA rotation and Sun-induced, time-varying outgassing torques to generate synthetic light curves of the object. The model neglects tidal forces, which are negligible compared to outgassing torques over the distances at which ‘Oumuamua was observed. We implement an optimization scheme that incorporates the NPA rotation model to calculate the initial rotation state of the object. We find that an NPA rotation state with an average period of 〈P〉 ≃ 7.34 hr best reproduces the photometric data. The discrepancy between this period and previous estimates is due to continuous period modulation induced by outgassing torques in the rotational model, as well as different periods being used. The best fit to the 2017 October data does not reproduce the 2017 November data (although the later measurements are too sparse to fit). The light curve is consistent with there being no secular evolution of the angular momentum, which is somewhat in tension with the empirical correlations between nuclear spin-up and cometary outgassing. The complex rotation of ‘Oumuamua may be the result of primordial rotation about the smallest principal axis if (i) the object experienced hypervolatile outgassing and (ii) our idealized outgassing model is accurate.

    more » « less