Mysterious interstellar object floating in space might be alien, say Harvard researchers
Nov 6, 2018 12:41 PM
An artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on Oct. 19, 2017, by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories
By Brett Molina, USA TODAY
It's been dubbed a comet, an asteroid, and a new class of interstellar object. Now, a paper from Harvard astronomers suggests one more possibility into the mysterious object nicknamed "Oumuamua": Alien probe.
Researchers focused on whether solar radiation pressure could explain the unusual acceleration of "Oumuamua," the first object entering the Earth's solar system from interstellar space.
The paper said if solar radiation pressure is the reason "Oumuamua" is moving at high speeds, it represents "a new class of thin interstellar material" either made naturally or through artificial means.
The paper's authors, which include Avi Loeb, chair of Harvard's astronomy department, suggest the object could be a "lightsail" used to propel spacecraft with solar energy.
The other possibility? It comes from aliens. "A more exotic scenario is that 'Oumuamua' may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," reads the paper.
"Oumuamua" has confounded researchers since it was first spotted last year by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope atop Mount Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii. The name "Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "scout" or "messenger."
The object puzzled astronomers because of its long shape and unusual acceleration. According to NASA, "Oumuamua" is up to a quarter-mile long and has reached speeds of 196,000 miles per hour.