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

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.

 
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Award ID(s):
2303553
NSF-PAR ID:
10505375
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Publisher / Repository:
IOP ApJ
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Volume:
956
Issue:
2
ISSN:
0004-637X
Page Range / eLocation ID:
121
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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