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Mysterious cigar-shaped interstellar object may be alien spacecraft: Harvard researchers

10 November 2018
Mysterious cigar-shaped interstellar object may be alien spacecraft: Harvard researchers

Panspermia is a hypothesis which suggests life on Earth came from microorganisms present in outer space which were unintentionally carried to our solar system and Earth by objects like dust, meteorites, and asteroids, according to the explanation on NASA's website.

The object was said to be 10 times longer than it is wide and it traveled at speeds of almost 200,000 miles per hour.

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.

"'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization", they wrote in the paper, which has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Oumuamua, the first interstellar object known to enter our solar system, accelerated faster away from the Sun than expected, hence the notion that some kind of artificial sail that runs on sunlight - known as a light sail - may have helped push it through space.

At first, astronomers thought the rapidly moving faint light was a regular comet or an asteroid that had originated in our solar system.

Light sail technology has already been developed by scientists here on Earth, such as Japan's IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative, the authors write. "Moreover, comets change the period of their spin and no such change was detected for Oumuamua", Loeb said. While there's a possibility that the object is merely an abnormally thin, extremely large naturally-occurring piece of interstellar rock - it didn't emit any radio signals detectable by human instruments - they speculate that it could be a defunct light-sail, space detritus fallen from a long-gone ship.

But not everyone agrees that the "cigar-shaped" space object shows signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

So far, there is no obvious origin for 'Oumuamua.

Bailer-Jones, who earlier this year led a group of scientists who identified four dwarf stars as likely origin points for Oumuamua, raised questions in particular about the object's tumbling motion.

"Looking ahead, we should search for other interstellar objects in the sky", Loeb said. Not all shells are the same, and similarly only a fraction of the interstellar objects might be technological debris of alien civilizations.

The object shot past our Sun last October, being observed as something literally from out of this world (i.e. not from our solar system).

Governments do have secret plans in place for the possibility of an alien landing, but they'd fall apart instantly if it ever actually happened, an astronomer has told LBC.