A mysterious cigar-shaped object found last year may have been an alien spacecraft sent to investigate Earth, Harvard University astronomers have suggested.
The object, dubbed "Oumuamua," meaning "a messenger stretching from the distant past" in Hawaiian, was first discovered in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
Since its discovery, scientists have found it difficult to explain their unusual characteristics and precise origins, with researchers first calling it a comet and then an asteroid, before finally considering it the first of its kind: a new class of "interstellar objects".
Now a new article by researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics raises the possibility that the elongated dark-red object, which is 10 times larger than it is wide and travels at 196,000 mph, may have an "artificial origin." "
"Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe intentionally sent to the Earth's vicinity by an alien civilization," they wrote in the paper, which was submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The theory is based on the object's "over-acceleration," or its unexpected increase in velocity as it traveled, and finally left the solar system in January 2018.
"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that & quot; Oumuamua is a light candle, floating in interstellar space as a residue of advanced technological equipment & quot ;, wrote the authors of the article, suggesting that the object could be driven by solar radiation.
The article, written by Abraham Loeb, professor and president of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, points out that comparable candlesticks already exist on Earth.
"Light sails of similar dimensions were designed and built by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative. Light-sail technology can be used abundantly to transport cargo between planets or between stars. "
In the article, the pair theorizes that the high speed of the object and its unusual trajectory may be the result of not being more operational.
"This would explain the various anomalies of Oumuamua, such as the unusual geometry inferred from its light curve, its low thermal emission, suggesting high reflectivity and its deviation from a Kepler's orbit without any tail signal from a comet or spin – torques. "
'Oumuamua is the first object ever seen in our solar system which is known to have originated elsewhere.
At first, astronomers thought that the light that moved rapidly was a common comet or an asteroid that had originated in our solar system.
Comets in particular are known to accelerate due to a process known as "outgassing," in which the sun warms the surface of the icy comet, releasing molten gas. But "Oumuamua had no" coma, "the atmosphere and dust surrounding the comets as they melted.
Several telescopes focused on the object for three nights to determine what it was before getting out of sight.
"We are fortunate that our sky-scraping telescope is looking at the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment," said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer, in a statement last year.
"This fortuitous discovery is a bonus science enabled by NASA's efforts to find, track, and characterize near-Earth objects that could potentially pose a threat to our planet."