The mysterious Oumuamua asteroid has been puzzling scientists trying to figure out where it came from and what it actually is. The Oumuamua asteroid showed up on the scene in 2017 when it was spotted passing by the sun. Scientists hypothesized that it had to have come from outside our solar system because of its “unusual trajectory.” The Oumuamua asteroid is about the size of a sports stadium and has a flat oval shape which is different “from other asteroids and comets.”
Two Harvard researchers now say the asteroid might be an alien spaceship or probe. In a paper entitled, “Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain Oumuamua’s Peculiar Acceleration,” these scientists bring up that very possibility.
The researchers aren’t claiming outright that aliens sent Oumuamua. But after a careful mathematical analysis of the way the interstellar object sped up as it shot past the sun, they say Oumuamua could be a spacecraft pushed through space by light falling on its surface — or, as they put it in the paper, a “lightsail of artificial origin.”
Who would have sent such a spacecraft our way — and why?
“It is impossible to guess the purpose behind Oumuamua without more data,” Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department and a co-author of the paper, told NBC News MACH in an email. If Oumuamua is a lightsail, he added, one possibility is that it was floating in interstellar space when our solar system ran into it, “like a ship bumping into a buoy on the surface of the ocean.”
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” one. And perhaps not surprisingly, other space scientists have strong doubts about it.
“It’s certainly ingenious to show that an object the size of Oumuamua might be sent by aliens to another star system with nothing but a solar sail for power,” Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said in an email. “But one should not blindly accept this clever hypothesis when there is also a mundane (and a priori more likely) explanation for Oumuamua — namely that it’s a comet or asteroid from afar.”
It’s an interesting theory for sure and one some people would hope was true. Of course, there are some who raise doubt about such a suggestion, like astronomer Coryn Bailer-Jones.
“Why send a spacecraft which is doing this?” he said. “If it were a spacecraft, this tumbling would make it impossible to keep any instruments pointed at the Earth. Of course, one could now say it was an accident, or the aliens did this to deceive us. One can always come up with increasingly implausible suggestions that have no evidence in order to maintain an idea.”
Last Updated on February 3, 2021.