Have aliens finally found us? Harvard's top researcher seems to believe so.
In a paper published in November last year by researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics raises the possibility that 'Oumuamua,' the elongated dark-red object, which is 10 times as long as it is wide and traveling at speeds of 196,000 mph, might have an "artificial origin."
The paper was authored by Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb. Loeb just happens to be the chairman of Harvard University's astronomy department. And six months down the line from the paper being published, he is convinced that Oumuamua is an alien probe. In a Scientific American article, he listed six strange facts about the object.
But what is the 'object' in question here, Oumuamua, really?
Here's what we know of it so far.
If you Google 'Oumuamua,' the official Wikipedia page will tell you that it's classed under the category 'comet,' but researchers, including from Harvard, will argue that maybe it could have been an alien probe instead.
ʻOumuamua' which means "a messenger that reaches out from the distant past" in Hawaiian, is the first ever 'interstellar object' ever detected passing through the Solar System. It is formally designated 1I/2017 U1, and was discovered by Robert Weryk using the Pan-STARRS telescope at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii, on 19 October 2017, 40 days after it passed from its closest point to the Sun.
An 'interstellar object' is a broad definition - it is anything other than a star or sub-star, that is located in interstellar space and is not bound by the gravitational pull to a star. It also classes objects that are on interstellar trajectory but are temporarily passing close to a star, such as certain asteroids and comets.
'Oumuamua' which looked like a cigar-shaped body floating in space was the first 'interstellar object' that was spotted.
Why could Oumuamua possibly be an alien probe?
When 'Oumuamua' was discovered, it showed no signs of a comet tail despite its close approach to the Sun, but has since undergone non-gravitational acceleration, potentially consistent with a push from solar radiation pressure. Oumuamua's system of origin and the amount of time it has spent traveling amongst the stars are also unknown. So the chances of Oumuamua being a comet are very slim.
If 'Oumuamua' is not a comet, then what else could it be?
"Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," the researchers wrote in the paper, which has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The theory is based on the object's "excess acceleration," or its unexpected boost in speed as it traveled through and ultimately out of our solar system in January, this year.
"Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that 'Oumuamua is a light sail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment," wrote the paper's authors, Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar, at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Spy craft or space junk?
Their theory, however, has been dismissed by other researchers, who state that simply basing it off on the fact that it "could likely" have been a spacecraft is a very slim possibility.
Loeb, however, recently Loeb has shed light on the other astrophysicist's critique.
Loeb argued that what has been observed from 'Oumuamua's behavior means it can't be, as is commonly imagined, a clump of rock shaped like a long potato, but rather an object that's very long and no more than 1 millimeter thick, perhaps like a kilometer-long obloid pancake - or a ship sail - so light and thin that sunlight is pushing it out of our solar system.
And while he's not saying it's definitely aliens, he is saying he can't think of anything other than aliens that fits the data. And he's saying that all over international news.