Harvard scientists investigating the unusual nature of a cigar-shaped object that flew past Earth this year, theorise it may have been an alien probe.
The so-called “Oumuamua”, deemed the first-ever object seen in the solar system that is known to have originated elsewhere, was first cited by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii in October last year.
Scientists have since been on a quest to explain its abnormal features, unusual acceleration and exact origin, with researchers originally believing it to be a comet or asteroid before relabelling it as the first in a new class of “interstellar objects”.
The lengthy dark object, which travelled past Earth in January, was initially thought to have been a “light sail” due to its high speed, according to a new paper by researchers at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggests.
“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.”
The paper, co-authored by astrophysicist ProfessorAbraham Loeb, chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, later pointed to a more “exotic scenario” being that Oumuamua may have been a “fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilisation”.
Professor Loeb has published four books and more than 700 papers on topics including black holes, the future of the universe, the search for extraterrestrial life and the first stars.
The object, which was 10 times as long as it was wide and travelled at about 315,000 km/h, could have been made naturally or through artificial means, the paper explained.
There were multiple telescopes examining the object as it moved past the Earth over three nights.
NASA Planetary Defence Officer Lindley Johnson described the scientific discovery as “serendipitous”.
“We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment,” Ms Johnson said.