Weird traveling space boulder could be alien ship, say scientists

An artist's depiction of Oumuamua the first detected interstellar object

Panspermia is a hypothesis which suggests life on Earth came from microorganisms present in outer space which were unintentionally carried to our solar system and Earth by objects like dust, meteorites, and asteroids, according to the explanation on NASA's website.

The paper was written by Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar, at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

A handout image of an artist's impression released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows Oumuamua - the first interstellar object discovered in the Solar System - November 20, 2017.

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.

In a new paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggest the possibility the object is actually a "lightsail of artificial origin".

The researchers aren't claiming outright that aliens sent Oumuamua.

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'Oumuamua is the first interstellar object ever observed in the solar system. Not only is it the first-ever interstellar asteroid or comet detected by astronomers while passing through the solar system, its shape is unusual, its acceleration is unexpected, and a cometary tail - the signature trail of particles seen behind shooting stars - is conspicuous in its absence.

Similar to how a sailing boat uses the wind in its sail to push it forward, a spacecraft with a light sail uses the light from a nearby star to propel it, with radiation pressure exerting a tiny amount of force.

In the article, scientists theorize that the high speed of the object and its unusual trajectory can be a result of the fact that it works. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, tried to detect signals from the object, but found nothing.

Jackson said the spectral data from 'Oumuamua looks like an asteroid or a comet, while that of a solar sail would look very different.

While it's not explicitly clear that Oumuamua was sent by aliens, researchers used meticulous mathematical analysis to make the case that the object was a "lightsail of artificial origin" due to the way it sped up as it passed by the sun.

"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. In order for it to be effective, Oumuamua needs to be less than a millimeter in thickness, like a sail. The object has left our solar system and is no longer visible even with telescopes. Such a means of "power" would allow, say, an alien probe to travel far into the universe with nothing but light needed to fuel it.

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