Mysterious object spotted in solar system may have been an alien probe

Illustration of Oumuamua

"Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization". Its unusual origin story wasn't the only thing that set Oumuamua apart from other comets and asteroids - it was also odd in shape; highly elongated, like a cosmic cigar.

Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb, two astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, suggested the cigar-shaped object - given the Hawaiian name 'Oumuamua, which NASA notes "means a messenger from afar arriving first" - could have been a discarded light sail of extra-terrestrial origin, perhaps sent here on objective.

The theory is based on the object's "excess acceleration", or its unexpected boost in speed as it traveled through and ultimately out of our solar system in January 2018.

A scientific paper led by two researchers at Harvard University made a splash this week by claiming that a cigar-shaped rock zooming through our solar system may have been sent by aliens.

Their paper was accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, and will appear on November 12. According to the study, "this would account for the various anomalies of 'Oumuamua, such as the unusual geometry inferred from its lightcurve, its low thermal emission, suggesting high reflectivity, and its deviation from a Keplerian orbit without any sign of a cometary tail or spin-up torques".

The Oumuamua was spotted late previous year as it drifted into the solar system and passed close enough to the sun that it could be seen on observational telescopes.

It's also entirely possible - perhaps more possible - that the object isn't part of a far-flung alien race's attempts to investigate the (other) occupants of the Milky Way.

According to Harvard scientists, we may not be alone in our solar system.

Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, said: "In science, we must ask ourselves 'Where is the evidence?"

Yesterday, a number of astronomers criticized Loeb's conclusions, particularly the lack of direct evidence pointing to alien influence. However, he adds that, if Oumuamua is indeed a lightsail, it may have run into our solar system "like a ship bumping into a buoy on the surface of the ocean".

"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that 'Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment", the scientists wrote.

When the object was first spotted scientists believed it might have been travelling through space for hundreds of millions of years.

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