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'Oumuamua may be an extraterrestrial solar sail

By T.K. Randall
November 3, 2018 · Comment icon 138 comments

Could 'Oumuamua be a relic from an alien civilization ? Image Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser
Harvard astronomers have suggested that the first known interstellar visitor could be an alien probe.
The 400-meter-long object, which flew past our planet back in October 2017, became the focus of much debate and intrigue after it was found to have come from a distant solar system.

Now according to two scientists from Harvard University, 'Oumuamua, far from being a mere asteroid or comet, might actually be a sophisticated extraterrestrial spacecraft equipped with a solar sail which uses radiation pressure to generate propulsion.

Observations of the object as it passed the Sun had indicated no evidence of outgassing - suggesting that it was an asteroid rather than a comet - however as it began to leave the solar system it suddenly exhibited an unexpected burst of speed indicative of material being vented due to solar heating.
To add to this apparant contradiction, if outgassing had been responsible for accelerating the object, it would have also had a significant effect on its spin - something that was not actually observed.

So could this mysterious interstellar visitor really have been built by an alien civilization ?

According to co-author Prof. Abraham Loeb, 'Oumuamua may not necessarily be an active spacecraft - it could be a derelict probe drifting through space under the influence of gravity and stellar radiation.

"This opportunity establishes a potential foundation for a new frontier of space archaeology, namely the study of relics from past civilizations in space," he wrote.

"Finding evidence for space junk of artificial origin would provide an affirmative answer to the age-old question 'Are we alone?'. This would have a dramatic impact on our culture and add a new cosmic perspective to the significance of human activity."

Source: | Comments (138)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #129 Posted by bison 6 years ago
It's entirely reasonable that extraterrestrials might want to observe us somewhat covertly, at least until Earth society as a whole became aware and accepting of their presence. This could be as much, or even more, for our benefit, than for theirs. We probably aren't much of a threat to a civilization that can travel the stars. Suddenly becoming aware of the immediate presence of a greatly more advanced civilization could be very damaging to our civilization in a number of ways. For example, believing that everything we might hope to accomplish in the future, has already been done long... [More]
Comment icon #130 Posted by Earl.Of.Trumps 6 years ago
Hold. Right there. In my opinion, I do agree that the ET's know that it is better for our barley-able-to-crawl society to not having the ET's be our savior, yes. But they are not here to stare at us in a trance at our wonderfulness, that is just self flattery. my opinion.... they may be have been living here longer than the humans. they're here as permanent residents, driven off their own dying planet and just want to survive like any other living creature. The rest, I am totally on board with. Yes.  BTW, I also think that this galaxy was mapped out eons ago by explorers, much like our ear... [More]
Comment icon #131 Posted by stereologist 6 years ago
I'm looking around and see that the path taking by Oumuamua appears to be explainable as a natural phenomenon. Here is a discussion of ideas about it being synthetic  
Comment icon #132 Posted by NotAlien7 5 years ago
I hate to say it but scientists really showed their rear's on this one. They claim they knew interstellar objects come through our solar system all along but they stood and watched the first and only known one fly away. Even over a year later they are saying they don't know what it was. I have read so many different things about it I believe them when they say they don't know. The amount of money that has passed through NASA and they in a once in a lifetime opportunity failed so horribly bad for not being prepared. I shutter to think what would happen if a large astroid was suddenly spotted 24... [More]
Comment icon #133 Posted by stereologist 5 years ago
Are you aware that it was not detected until it was already moving away from us? The larger asteroids have all been detected. Work is ongoing to find smaller ones and smaller ones.
Comment icon #134 Posted by NotAlien7 5 years ago
I am aware that is what they have said. I believe it was something like 24 million miles from Earth when the observatory in Hawaii spotted it. I'm also aware of the video with the astronomers who found it talking about how they felt when they first saw it coming in. I realize that could be a slip of the tongue or maybe she was using the term "coming in" generally, also it was claimed the object was red in color then I read it was green. A year ago they were saying the suns gravity had no effect on it now they are saying it's slowing down from the effects of the suns gravity. How would they kno... [More]
Comment icon #135 Posted by psyche101 5 years ago
The suns gravity did have effect on it  it was moving to fast to be captured by gravitational pull.
Comment icon #136 Posted by stereologist 5 years ago
The exit path for the object was seen to be an hyperbole. It was not an ellipse as would be the case of an object from the solar system. The path that it took coming inward can be determined from the path it is taking going away. There will be some uncertainty because of out gassing effects. An asteroid does not out gas, boil off volatiles. The object is being observed to slow down but that slow down is not what gravity predicts. Therefore, some other force is affecting the object. Miserably failed? No. Observing such objects is based on their detection. There might be other smaller objects th... [More]
Comment icon #137 Posted by Grey Area 5 years ago
It’s a big deal launching a rocket into orbit, it takes a great deal of time and effort to get a small payload into low earth orbit, not to mention designing and building a scientific probe which would be said payload. it takes even more effort, to get a man made object to leave the earths gravitational influence. Now the sun is around 330 thousand times as massive as the earth, so imagine how difficult it is to escape the Suns gravitational influence.  Let alone plotting a rendezvous with an object already on an escape trajectory. Add into this that missions outside of Earths influence are... [More]
Comment icon #138 Posted by Myles 5 years ago
This guy is doubling down on his claim.   “Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” Loeb and his colleague Shmuel Bialy wrote in Astrophysical Journal Letters in November, according to the Washington Post. Since making the shock claim last year, many scientists have criticized Loeb for offering, in their view, the most sensationalist theory of what the object is. “Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inqui... [More]

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