Late last year, astronomers spotted a mysterious object sailing past the sun. It moved pretty fast — too fast to be a mere asteroid or a comet. It never crashed or stopped on one of our solar system’s planets, and it left our vicinity soon thereafter. But what on earth was it?
Whatever it was, it’s been dubbed “Oumuamua.” (So much for Neil deGrasse Tyson saying astronomers always give space objects obvious names, like “red dwarf” and “black hole.”) At the time some were quick to wonder if it was an alien spaceship.
Eleven months later, scientists still aren’t ready to call it an alien spaceship. But they are ready to admit could be a possibility, maybe, as per NBC. In a new paper set to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on November 12, two Harvard scientists say they’re open to the notion that it “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.”
The paper’s authors basing this unusual E.T.-related open-mindedness on months of careful mathematical analysis. According to the paper, that the object sped up after it shot past the sun suggests it either was pushed by light falling on its surface or it’s a “lightsail of artificial origin.” But that’s as far as they’ll go thus far.
“It is impossible to guess the purpose behind Oumuamua without more data,” said Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department and a co-author of the paper, in an e-mail to NBC. Loeb added that if it is a lightsail — a spacecraft that runs on solar power, a technology that’s in its infancy on Earth — then one possibility is it was traveling in interstellar space when it collided with our solar system, “like a ship bumping into a buoy on the surface of the ocean.”
Don’t get too hepped-up on this alien news. Inevitably, there’s a good deal of pushback against it from other scientists.
“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, told NBC 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.”
In any case, the Oumuamua has already left our solar system, and it’s no longer detectable by telescopes. If it was an alien spacecraft (and if it happened to be piloted by benevolent beings), good thing it didn’t stop on Earth at this point in our planet’s history. That would have been like your parents swinging by your dorm room before you’ve hidden your crappy weed.