Published: Thu, November 08, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Scientists say mystery space object could be alien spacecraft

Scientists say mystery space object could be alien spacecraft

Their paper was accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, and will appear on November 12.

The object, nicknamed 'Oumuamua, meaning "a messenger that reaches out from the distant past" in Hawaiian, was first discovered in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.

It is ten-times as long as it is wide and travels at speeds of 196,000 miles per hour.

The researchers noted in a pre-print of the article that it was an "exotic scenario", but that "Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization". But the way the object sped through space leads the team to believe the otherworldly craft was propelled by some sort of "lightsail of artificial origin".

Lightsails are a proposed method of spacecraft propulsion which uses radiation pressure exerted from sunlight or large mirrors. According to the study, "this would account for the various anomalies of 'Oumuamua, such as the unusual geometry inferred from its lightcurve, 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". There are probably "thousands of interstellar 'Oumuamua-like" objects "trapped" somewhere in the solar system, they wrote. One such project, Breakthrough Starshot, is aiming to send hundreds of tiny, lightsail-operated probes to a nearby solar system next year.

The Harvard scientists speculated that solar radiation hitting a solar sail could explain why the mysterious object started moving faster.

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Despite the Harvard researchers' work, most scientists, NBC News says, are urging caution in assuming there's any other civilization beyond Earth's atmosphere - and that it's actively seeking us out.

"So we wrote this paper suggesting this explanation", Loeb told the Boston Globe. "One should not blindly accept this clever hypothesis when there is also a mundane (and a priori more likely) explanation for Oumuamua".

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

"Any functional spacecraft would nearly certainly retract its solar sail once in interstellar space to prevent damage", Mr Jackson said.

Mr Loeb called his findings "purely scientific and evidence-based" and added: "I follow the maxim of Sherlock Holmes: when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". It is expected to shoot past Saturn and leave the solar system in early 2019, according to the agency.

"It's the first object to come from interstellar space, it's nothing we have seen before", Loeb said.

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