"But we should examine anything that enters the solar system from interstellar space in order to infer the true nature of Oumuamua or other objects of its mysterious population". These astronomers claim that the object could actually be "a lightsail of artificial origin" sent from some far-away civilization in the Universe.
They proposed that it was powered along by "solar radiation pressure" produced by the sun, but went on to make more "exotic" suggestions to explain its acceleration. Not only is it the first-ever interstellar asteroid or comet detected by astronomers while passing through the solar system, its shape is unusual, its acceleration is unexpected, and a cometary tail - the signature trail of particles seen behind shooting stars - is conspicuous in its absence.
The object was discovered a year ago with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope atop Haleakalā on Maui and was given the Hawaiian name ʻOumuamua, meaning 'a messenger from afar arriving first'.
"'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization", they 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.
The paper, written by Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar, at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, points out that comparable light-sails already exist on earth.
"It is impossible to guess the objective behind Oumuamua without more data", Loeb was quoted as saying.
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An artist's depiction of Oumuamua, an interstellar object that astronomers believe is a comet, not an asteroid. NBC News reports that denizens of this planet have launched their own lightsail probes, mostly to investigate other star systems, now unreachable by humans.
Harvard researchers say about the possibility that this cosmic body could be "a work probe is deliberately sent to earth by an alien civilization".
"Like many researchers, I would very much like to believe that there is irrefutable proof of extraterrestrial life, but that is not the case", says Alan Fitzsimmons, astronomer at Queens University.
Some are not so sure the cigar-shaped 'Oumuamua is a solar sail, however.
"So we wrote this paper suggesting this explanation", Loeb told the Boston Globe.
Of course, the pair aren't claiming that Oumuamua's definitely of alien origin. It is expected to shoot past Saturn and leave the solar system in early 2019, according to the agency.
While their mathematical models fit the observed data, their measurements of 'Oumuamua's peculiar dimensions and properties apparently led them to suggest there was another potential explanation: 'Oumuamua may not have been an asteroid at all. "It is impossible to guess the goal of Oumuamua without more data".