The mysterious interstellar object 'Oumuamua' that was found lurking in our solar system last year may have been an alien spacecraft. That's the claim from a new study carried out by two astronomers from the Harvard University.
Oumuamua was first spotted in October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope operating in Hawaii. The word Oumuamua in Hawaiian language means ‘a messenger reaching out from the distant past'.
Since its discovery, scientists have found themselves puzzled due to the unusual features of the interstellar object.
It was first recognised as a comet, but was later described as an asteroid. Finally, the object was deemed as new class of ‘interstellar objects' never seen before. Astronomers were sure that the object was not a member of our solar system and came from some distant world in the universe.
According to NASA, this interstellar object was a "metallic or rocky object" about 400 metres long and 40 metres wide. It was elongated and reddish in colour. It appeared to have characteristics of both asteroids and comets. SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, tried to detect signals from the object, but found nothing.
When Oumuamua was spotted last year, scientists observed that its speed had increased after passing the Sun. It would have slowed down given the strength of the Sun's gravitational pull, say scientist, unless it was a comet. But, the object was not a comet as it lacked a comet-like tail.
The latest theory shedding more light on the nature of Oumuamua comes from a study carried out by two astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. These astronomers claim that the object could actually be ‘a lightsail of artificial origin' sent from some far-away civilization in the Universe.
In their paper, the astronomers state claim that Oumuamua's unusual acceleration could be artificial in nature, and that the object could be relying on radiation pressure for power.
"We explain the excess acceleration of Oumuamua away from the Sun as the result of the force that the Sunlight exerts on its surface," the researchers claim in their paper.
"For this force to explain measured excess acceleration, the object needs to be extremely thin, of order a fraction of a millimeter in thickness but tens of meters in size. This makes the object lightweight for its surface area and allows it to act as a light-sail. "
"Its origin could be either natural (in the interstellar medium or proto-planetary disks) or artificial (as a probe sent for a reconnaissance mission into the inner region of the Solar System)."
The paper was written by Professor Abraham Loeb, the director at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics's Institute for Theory and Computation, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral researcher. Detailed findings of the study are published in The Astronomical Journal.
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