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

An artist's depiction of Oumuamua the first detected interstellar object

The object was discovered a year ago with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope atop Haleakalā on Maui and was given the Hawaiian name ʻOumuamua, meaning 'a messenger from afar arriving first'.

Scientists first called the object an asteroid, then later deemed it a mildly active comet.

In a forthcoming paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters, Harvardprofessors Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb revisit the observations of Oumuamua and find that its motion does indeed seem to be explained by normal phenomena (Loeb is the head of Harvard's astronomy department).

The object, dubbed "Oumuamua", immediately captured the attention of the astronomy world, in part because of its unusual look and behavior, but also because it was the first observed object from outside the solar system.

Avi Loeb, Harvard's astronomy department chairman and a co-author of the paper, cautions that it's "impossible to guess the objective behind Oumuamua without more data".

The paper points out that comparable light-sails exist on Earth. "Technology the light sails can be used to transport cargo between planets or between the stars", the researchers note. Not only is it the first-ever interstellar asteroid or comet detected by astronomers while passing through the solar system, its shape is unusual, its acceleration is unexpected, and a cometary tail - the signature trail of particles seen behind shooting stars - is conspicuous in its absence.

That shape would allow solar radiation to push the vessel along and explains the object's unusual acceleration.

It is known that comets are accelerated through a process known as "degassing" when the sun heats the icy surface, releasing the molten gas.

There are less "exotic" explanations for Oumuamua that are still brain-meltingly awesome.

"The evidence about 'Oumuamua is not conclusive but interesting". So there's evidence both for and against the hypothesis that Oumuamua is a comet or comet-like. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, tried to detect signals from the object, but found nothing.

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"And here's a story fromNBC News saying an alien spacecraft may be above Earth and no one's noticing it", Stu laughed.

So what does that mean for 'Oumuamua? Oumuamua exited our star system late previous year, and hasn't made a U-turn to come back and check on Earth's inhabitants. In short: It doesn't move like a regular comet or asteroid.

"Why send a spacecraft which is doing this?" he said. "The sail is useless once away from a star so there would be no reason to leave it deployed". For reference, Voyager 1, the spacecraft that's now leaving our solar system, is traveling at around 35,000 miles per hour. "Even if it was left deployed the dust accumulation would be primarily on the leading side like bugs on a windshield". The first: solar radiation pressure.

"It's possible it's space debris, it's possible it could be artificial", he said.

They add in the paper that the object could be a "lightsail of artifical origin".

So far, there is no obvious origin for 'Oumuamua.

According to a new study conducted by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the cigar-shaped asteroid Oumuamua could be an alien spacecraft.

Concerning 'Oumuamua, there is little evidence because astronomers weren't able to observe it for long, which opens it up to speculation in the name of science.

'The thing you have to understand is: scientists are perfectly happy to publish an outlandish idea if it has even the tiniest sliver of a chance of not being wrong, ' she wrote on Twitter.

Loeb said he is not definitively claiming the object is alien, but said it is important to acknowledge the possibility. Loeb calculated that for it to be a random object following a random orbit, there would have to be 100 million times more of its type hanging around in the solar system.

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