Strange shaped comet, or alien spacecraft?
That is the unnerving question that has been puzzling scientists ever since the mysterious space object was spotted tumbling past our sun in late 2017.
Astronomers first observed it using the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii, and have since nicknamed the object ‘Oumuamua, meaning “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian.
Since its discovery, the unusual features of Oumuamua have left scientists scratching their heads. The reddish stadium-sized object is about 10 times as long as it is wide, and is currently moving at speeds of 196,000 mph.
Its incredibly fast speed and flattened elongated shape is mainly what has set it apart from other space objects we’ve seen in the past.
Researchers first called it a comet, then an asteroid, and now they have changed their minds once again. Currently, Oumuamua has been deemed the first of its kind, belonging to a new class of “interstellar objects” not yet defined.
Although there is still a lot of debate about its exact origins, one thing for sure is that it has definitely come from outside our solar system.
In a recent paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, two researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have even proposed the theory that Oumuamua is actually of artificial origin, or in layman’s terms, sent by aliens.
“‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb wrote.
Their theory is based upon the object’s unusual acceleration, that was observed as Oumuamua passed through our solar system in January 2018. They say one possible explanation is that it is a spacecraft using light-sail technology, whereby the spacecraft is pushed through space by light falling on its surface.
“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.”
Although there are plenty of other theories as well, Oumuamua is the first object ever seen in our solar system that is known to have originated elsewhere, meaning regardless, its presence is still pretty important.
“We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment,” said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson 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.”
While more research is still needed to determine the exact origins of Oumuamua, the proposal that it could an alien spacecraft is certainly very interesting to think about. Although, as the strange object has already left our solar system and is no longer observable by telescope, it is entirely possible we may never find out the full truth.
Check out the video below to see Oumuamua in action.
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