Did an Intergalactic Probe Visit Our Solar System? Israeli Researchers Say “Maybe!”

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08 Nov 2018
Oumuamua Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser
Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser

According to a newly-released paper from two Harvard astronomers, Oumuamua, a mysterious, cigar-shaped object that whizzed through our solar system last year, might actually be an alien probe from interstellar space. The authors of the paper are Shmuel Bialy (a graduate of Tel Aviv University) and Avi Loeb (a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

Oumuamua, which means “messenger” in Hawaiian, is about a quarter of a mile long. It flew by on a trajectory that indicated clearly that it did not come from within our solar system, and it actually accelerated during its journey. Oumuamua appears to have been powered by solar radiation pressure, the force behind what’s known as lightsail technology, a means to accelerate spacecraft once they’re flying free.

The authors concede that, unlikely though it may be, it’s theoretically possible that Oumuamua is a lightsail. “[A] more exotic scenario,” they wrote, “is that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.” (Emphasis theirs.)

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