Interstellar object Oumuamua may be 'alien probe': Harvard scientists


Ever since the interstellar object 'Oumuamua did a drive-by of our solar system in 2017, casual space fans thought it looked awfully like a space ship.

The cigar-shaped asteroid or comet - dubbed Oumuamua - was discovered in October past year by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. According to the paper which was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on 12 of November, the researches pointed out that this can be a completely working probe which has been sent here with the intention to observe earth and its surroundings by an alien civilization.

In June 2018, Marco Micheli of the European Space Agency and colleagues showed that the trajectory of the object through the solar system can not be explained exclusively by the gravitational attraction of the Sun, planets and large asteroids. There's limited data on 'Oumuamua, since scientists could only observe it for about two weeks before it zipped beyond our solar system.

Oumuamua, the first interstellar object known to enter our solar system, accelerated faster away from the Sun than expected, hence the notion that some kind of artificial sail that runs on sunlight - known as a light sail - may have helped push it through space. But comets have clouds of gas surrounding them, and 'Oumuamua seemed to have none. "Indeed, they write that "'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization", with the caveat that this is an "exotic scenario".

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"Oumuamua showed unusual features since its discovery". Loeb says that astronomers should be scanning the sky for other interstellar objects, including possible light-sails. "I will be truly excited once we have conclusive evidence", he said. "And some of the arguments in this study are based on numbers with large uncertainties".

Katie Mack, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University, also disagrees.

"But until every other possibility has been exhausted dozen times over, even the authors probably don't believe it". "I would not say I believe it was sent by extraterrestrials", says Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral astrophysicist at Harvard, co-author of the article. Bialy and Loeb say, however, that 'Oumuamua need not be flat, but could be a curved sheet, hollow cone or even a sheet that has been folded up like an umbrella.