Interstellar object 'Oumuamua' could be an alien probe, claims Harvard study

ESO  M. Kornmesser

Earlier this week a few Harvard University researchers caused a stir when they suggested space rock Oumuamua may have been an alien probe sent to investigate Earth.

The article, written by Abraham Loeb, Professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bali, scientist, doctoral student at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for astrophysics, indicate that comparable "light sail" already exist on Earth.

Scientists first discovered the mysterious interstellar object now known as "Oumuamua" in late 2017 when it was spotted by thePan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. It's dark red, somewhere between 250m and one kilometre long, ten times longer than it is wide, and is spinning end-over-end through space at about 196,000 miles per hour.

Loeb told NBC News that the idea that Oumuamua could be alien-made was "purely scientific and evidence-based".

"It's certainly ingenious to show that an object the size of Oumuamua might be sent by aliens to another star system with nothing but a solar sail for power". 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.

Although it's been called a comet or an asteroid in the past, it's still unclear exactly what the elongated, red-tinged object is and where it came from.

"It's the first object to come from interstellar space, it's nothing we have seen before", Loeb said.

Similar to how a sailing boat uses the wind in its sail to push it forward, a spacecraft with a light sail uses the light from a nearby star to propel it, with radiation pressure exerting a tiny amount of force.

Comets, in particular, are known to speed-up due to a process known as "outgassing", in which the sun heats up the surface of the icy comet, releasing melted gas. But 'Oumuamua didn't have a "coma", the atmosphere and dust that surrounds comets as they melt. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, tried to detect signals from the object, but found nothing.

The strangly shaped object is about half a mile long and is so unusual that Nasa said it had "never seen a natural object with such extreme proportions in the solar system before". The paper was also submitted to The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

A massive flattened boulder-like object traveling through space with "peculiar acceleration" could be an alien craft, according to a new study.

"This unusual object ... is less than [400 metres] in diameter and is moving remarkably fast", NASA said at the time.

A cigar-shaped asteroid flying through space in our direction could be a huge alien solar sail on a mission to find signs of life, scientists claim.

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