A mysterious cigar shaped rock was spotted floating through the solar system last year, and Harvard’s researchers spent time researching the same to postulate that this object might be an alien spacecraft sent to investigate Earth.
The object was discovered in Hawaii in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope and nicknamed ‘Oumuamua, meaning “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian.
And since it’s discovery various theories have popped up and many scientists have tried to explain its unusual features and precise origins, with researchers first calling it a comet and then an asteroid before finally deeming it the first of its kind: a new class of “interstellar objects.”
A new paper by researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics raises the possibility that object that is 10 times as long as it is wide and travels at speeds of 196,000 mph, might have an “artificial origin.”
“‘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.
“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,
The paper was written by Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar, at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The paper points out that comparable light-sails exist on Earth.
“Light-sails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative. The light-sail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars.”
In the paper they have also theorized that the object’s high speed and its unusual trajectory could be the result of it no longer being operational.
“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.”
‘Oumuamua is the first object ever seen in our solar system that is known to have originated elsewhere.
Multiple telescopes focused on the object for three nights to determine what it was before it moved out of sight.
“We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment,” NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said in a statement last year. “This serendipitous discovery is bonus science enabled by NASA’s efforts to find, track and characterize near-Earth objects that could potentially pose a threat to our planet.”
Jackson said “the spectral data from ‘Oumuamua looks like an asteroid or a comet, while that of a solar sail would look very different. The new paper proposes that the sail has been coated in interstellar dust, which obscures its true spectral signature.”
“Any functional spacecraft would almost certainly retract its solar sail once in interstellar space to prevent damage,” Jackson said. “The sail is useless once away from a star so there would be no reason to leave it deployed. If it was then deployed again on entering the solar system it would be pristine. Even if it was left deployed the dust accumulation would be primarily on the leading side like bugs on a windshield.”
The solar sail would also be thinner than the authors of the new paper describe, he said.
“The sail on IKAROS is 7.5 micrometres thick with a mass of only 0.001g/cm^2, 100 times lower than their estimate,” Jackson said. “While a combined spacecraft and sail could have a higher net mass the sail itself needs to be extremely light. That would also significantly change their estimate for how far it could travel before falling apart — though as I said, I doubt any functional craft would leave its sail deployed in interstellar space.”
“Beyond that, it becomes difficult to trace because of the motion of the stars and any hypothetical alien civilisation would face the same issue in charting a course that long in the first place (aside from arguments about whether they would want to launch a craft they knew would not reach its destination for many millions of years),” Jackson said.
Harvard’s reports use NASA’s data but seem to contradict and go beyond the information available to postulate that it might be an alien probe or left over from an alien civilisation, NASA’s initial reports claim that Oumuamua is nothing but “a fast moving object on an unbound orbit and was just discovered close to the Earth”
And that it’s an object that left its home millions of years ago and was likely sent on its lonely journey when it was “ejected during planet formation and migration” and has been linked to four possible star systems.
The unique thing about this giant red object was that it moved faster than the existing laws of celestial mechanics and that it has a “comet-like density” and a dark red surface.
“(The red surface suggests) either an organic-rich surface like that of comets and outer solar system asteroids, or a surface containing minerals with nanoscale iron, such as the dark side of Saturn’s moon Iapetus,” the report said.
But the report ultimately concluded that Oumuamua is likely “one of many” interstellar objects or a Comet that pass through Earth’s solar system on a regular basis.