A mysterious cigar-shaped object discovered in space may have been an alien spacecraft, according to astronomers.
Scientists from Harvard University have been working relentlessly to identify the bizarre object, ever since it was spotted by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii in October 2017.
The 400-meter object, which traveled at 196,000 miles per hour and was 10 times longer than its width, has been nicknamed ‘Oumuamua. This Hawaiian word means “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past”.
It was originally believed to be a comet before further research suggested it was an asteroid. Now, a new paper has raised suggestions that the elongated red mystery could have been a new class of “interstellar object” that has never been discovered before.
It is also believed to be the first object seen in our solar system to have originated elsewhere.
The paper was authored by researchers from Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and has been submitted for publication in the astrophysical journal ‘Letters’.
The authors wrote: “’Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.”
This belief is largely based on the ‘excess acceleration’ of the object as it sped through our solar system.
“Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a light sail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from advanced technological equipment,” the authors explained.
“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.”
The object’s high speed and unusual trajectory could have been a result of the object no longer being operational, according to the paper.
The authors explained: “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.”
Comets are known to gain speed due to a process called “outgassing”, in which the sun heats its surface and releases melted gas. However, no signs of this process taking place were spotted around ‘Oumuamua, leading many to completely discount the possibility that it was a comet.
The paper was based on the researchers’ findings after multiple telescopes studied Oumuamua’s movements for three nights. It is believed to have been traveling through space for hundreds of millions of years.
It has now left our solar system and is no longer visible with telescopes.
Still, the new research is not without its critics.
Alan Jackson, fellow at the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – and this paper is distinctly lacking in evidence nevermind extraordinary evidence.”
Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, said: “In science, we must ask ourselves ‘where is the evidence’, not ‘where is the lack of evidence so that I can fit in any hypothesis that I like’.”
The paper’s lead author is Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy at Harvard University. He has published four books and more than 700 papers on topics like black holes, the first stars ever discovered, the future of the universe and the hunt for extraterrestrial life.
Concluding his research, he suggested the next onward step is to continue searching for similar objects.
“The evidence about ‘Oumuamua is not conclusive but interesting. I will be truly excited once we have conclusive evidence,” he said.