Harvard researchers have suggested a mysterious interstellar object that was spotted floating in space in 2017 could be an “alien” spacecraft sent on a reconnaissance mission to probe the Earth.
The cigar-shaped asteroid or comet – dubbed Oumuamua – was discovered in October last year by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.
Given its high speed and unusual trajectory, the dark-red object was believed to have come from outside our solar system but its flattened and elongated shape as well as the way it accelerated on its way utterly distinguished it from other conventional asteroids.
Two Harvard researchers, Professors Abraham Loeb and Shmuel Bialy, raised the possibility in a paper that the reddish object, which is 10 times as long as it is wide and traveling at a speed of 196,000 miles per hour, might have an "artificial origin."
Oumuamua, named after the Hawaiian term which means "a messenger from afar arriving first," is the first object ever seen in our solar system that is known to have originated elsewhere, according to the pair at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” they said.
“Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” the two Harvard researchers noted.
Loeb said in an interview with Universe Today that “Oumuamua could be an active piece of alien technology that came to explore our Solar System, the same way we hope to explore Alpha Centauri using Starshot and similar technologies.”
“The alternative is to imagine that Oumuamua was on a reconnaissance mission,” he added.
Before his demise in March, Professor Stephen Hawking said the most likely shape for an interstellar spacecraft would be a "cigar or needle" as this would “minimize friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust.”
Researchers have previously suggested that the object is likely to be the same size and shape as London's Gherkin building.