Interstellar asteroid could be 'alien' mission searching for life

An illustration of ‘Oumuamua the first object we’ve ever seen pass through our own solar system that has interstellar origins

The researchers noted in a pre-print of the article that it was an "exotic scenario", but that "Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization".

After using telescopes to determine if Oumuamua was an asteroid or comet, researchers settled on the term artificial origin because of its "excess acceleration" and "highly hyperbolic trajectory".

In a new scientific paper, Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb of Harvard University in the United States will say cigar-shaped "Oumuamua" could be a spaceship. The team termed the possible propulsion system a "lightsail of artificial origin". Not only is it the first-ever interstellar asteroid or comet detected by astronomers while passing through the solar system, its shape is odd, its acceleration is unexpected, and a cometary tail - the signature trail of particles seen behind shooting stars - is conspicuous in its absence. One such project, Breakthrough Starshot, is aiming to send hundreds of tiny, lightsail-operated probes to a nearby solar system next year.

In a paper to be published November 12 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the pair declare that the reddish, elongated, stadium-sized object "may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization", NBC News reported.

In their paper, the Harvard scientists say the only way to know for sure is to keep watch and see what else shows up in our solar system.

"I am distinctly unconvinced and honestly think the study is rather flawed", Alan Jackson, fellow at the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told CNN.

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Yesterday, a number of astronomers criticized Loeb's conclusions, particularly the lack of direct evidence pointing to alien influence.

Mr Bailer-Jones led a group of scientists earlier this year who identified four dwarf stars as likely origin points for Oumuamua.

"I follow the maxim of Sherlock Holmes: When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth", one of the authors, Abraham Loeb, said, according to NBC News. It's also possible Oumuamua was just created to wander through space, collecting information, and our solar system just happened to be in its way - its operators weren't necessarily looking to pry into the lives of humans.

He said: "If it were a spacecraft, this tumbling would make it impossible to keep any instruments pointed at the Earth".

Although it's been called a comet or an asteroid in the past, it's still unclear exactly what the elongated, red-tinged object is and where it came from.

In December 2017 it was announced the astronomers were going to scan Oumuamua for signs of alien life.

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