Mysterious interstellar asteroid could be a solar sail from wrecked alien probe, astronomers say Interstellar mystery rock Oumuamua might have been part of an alien reconnaissance mission, according to two Harvard Smithsonian astronomers who saw in the odd object signs it could be a light-driven probe.
When the object - known as Oumuamua - flew past the sun, astronomers rushed to find out more about it and reviewed data discovering that the object gained speed instead of slowing down.
Oumuamua was first spotted in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope operating in Hawaii.
And scientists still don't know if it represents an entirely new class of objects - neither comet nor asteroid - that are hurtling through the galaxy.
At least, that's what astronomers from Harvard University suggest in a research paper.
Harvard researchers say about the possibility that this cosmic body could be "a work probe is deliberately sent to earth by an alien civilization". "But we should examine anything that enters the solar system from interstellar space in order to infer the true nature of Oumuamua or other objects of its mysterious population". It's still the first interstellar object we've ever witnessed crossing into our solar neighborhood.
Light sail technology has already been developed by scientists here on Earth, such as Japan's IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative, the authors write.
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In operation, the pair theorizes that the velocity of the object and its unusual trajectory can be a result of the fact that it is no longer working.
"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment. This led us to suggest that it may be a light-sail produced by an alien civilization". Also confusing: When Oumuamua was closest to the sun, it didn't break apart like a comet would amid the heat and display a telltale tail.
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The paper goes on to explore the idea that Oumuamua could possibly be a broken off part of an alien probe.
"A survey for lightsails as technosignatures [scientific evidence of past or present technology] in the solar system is warranted, irrespective of whether Oumuamua is one of them", the paper said. Even the spinning motion of a damaged solar sail would be far more strongly influenced by the radiation forces than seen, he explained.
The estimated 400 metre-long object sped through our inner solar system at a speed of more than 26 kilometres per second before departing in January 2018.