Harvard astronomers believe that Oumuamua could be an alien space probe. (European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser)

Cigar-shaped interstellar object could be alien probe: Harvard

Astronomers say ‘Oumuamua’ is unlikely to be an asteroid or comet

A cigar-shaped object seen floating through space could be an alien probe, Harvard researchers suggest.

In a study published last week by the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, researchers say the object, dubbed “Oumuamua,” is the first object of “interstellar origin” observed in our solar system.

“Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilization,” researchers said.

NASA believes Oumuamua, which was discovered last fall by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, is about 400 metres long, and made up “of rock and possibly metals, has no water or ice, and that its surface was reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years.”

It is forecast to travel beyond Saturn’s orbit, as it shoots through space at a speed of 38.3 kilometers per second.

The Harvard study’s authors acknowledged that an alien space probe is a “more exotic scenario,” and said Oumuamua could be either naturally occurring or accidental space debris, albeit still from a mystery source.

However, its mass-to-area ratio makes it unlikely that it’s merely an oddly shaped asteroid or comet.

Either way, researcher said it was too late to photograph Oumuamua with existing telescopes or to chase it with chemical rockets.

Instead, researchers, and the rest of us, will have to wait for a new Oumuamua to appear before we can discover what it really is.


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katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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