In a study released Thursday, astronomers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics published their observations of an interstellar object known as "Oumuamua."
According to the scientists, the rock – which is the first observed to enter our star system from another – received an unexpected increase in speed as it passed through the internal solar system last year.
As the object appears to exhibit qualities associated with both asteroids and comets, astronomers speculated that their unusual acceleration could be the result of a "candle of artificial origin" being pushed by solar radiation.
The study "Could solar radiation pressure explain the peculiar acceleration of Oumuamua?" It was conducted by Shmuel Bialy, a researcher at CfA's Institute of Theory and Computation (ITC) and Professor Abraham Loeb, ITC director Frank B Baird Jr. at Harvard University.
Astronomers wrote, "Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that Oumuamua is a light candle floating in interstellar space as debris from an advanced technological equipment.
The asteroid was first discovered by the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii on October 19 last year.
The object's strange cigar form and its unusual behavior led many to speculate that it could be an alien artifact.
In the year since the debate has raged in the scientific community over whether Oumuamua is a comet or an asteroid. The object seemed to accelerate as it left the solar system – suggesting that it had omitted materials from its surface after being warmed by the Sun in a manner consistent with a comet.
However, as it did not undergo a similar process when it was closer to the Sun, Bialy and Loeb argue that it is a light candle – a form of spacecraft that depends on the radiation pressure to generate propulsion. Loeb said "Universe Today": "Oumuamua can be an active part of the alien technology that came to explore our Solar System.
"The alternative is to imagine that Oumuamua was on a recon mission. The assumption that Oumumua followed a random orbit requires the production of such objects per star in our galaxy. "
Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Astronomy Institute and co-author of the study, suggested that dust grains on the surface of most comets had worn out during Oumuamua's journey through interstellar space.