Scientists say mystery space object could be alien spacecraft

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

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

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 was moving at 59,030mph when it was first tracked by scientists.

Now, a new paper by researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics raises the possibility that the elongated dark-red object, which is 10 times as long as it is wide and traveling at speeds of 196,000 miles per hour, might have an "artificial origin".

In a paper to be published November 12 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the pair declare that the reddish, elongated, stadium-sized object "may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization", NBC News reported.

"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that 'Oumuamua is a light sail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment", wrote the paper's authors, suggesting that the object could be propelled by solar radiation.

"This would account for 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 Keplerian orbit without any sign of a cometary tail or spin-up torques".

Mr Loeb is an adviser to Breakthrough Starshot, an initiative that plans to send a fleet of tiny laser-powered lightsail craft to the nearest star system.

Loeb and his collaborator, Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, acknowledge that the alien spacecraft scenario is an "exotic" idea.

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Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, said: "In science, we must ask ourselves 'Where is the evidence?" "The approach I take to the subject is purely scientific and evidence-based".

Of course, the pair aren't claiming that Oumuamua's definitely of alien origin.

But SETI senior astronomer Seth Shostak said in an email to NBC that "one should not blindly accept this clever hypothesis when there is also a mundane explanation for 'Oumuamua - namely that it's a comet or asteroid from afar".

He raised questions in particular about the object's tumbling motion.

"If radiation pressure is the accelerating force, then 'Oumuamua represents a new class of thin interstellar material, either produced naturally, through a yet unknown process in the [interstellar medium] or in proto-planetary disks, or of an artificial origin".

"Why send a spacecraft which is doing this?" he said.

The truth may be hard to establish, as Oumuamua has left the solar system and is no longer visible even with telescopes.

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