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Asteroid Oumuamua could be sent from another civilization to look for signs of life

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Staff Writer | Saturday November 3, 2018 4:36PM ET
World   One possibility is that Oumuamua is a lightsail

Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever seen in the solar system, could be a gigantic alien solar sail send to look for signs of life.

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Astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) analyzed the strange cigar shape of the object, and an unexpected boost in speed and shift in trajectory as it passed through the inner solar system last year.

They concluded that the strange asteroid "might be a lightsail of artificial origin."

The study "Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain 'Oumuamua's Peculiar Acceleration?" was conducted by Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral researcher at the CfA's Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC) and Professor Abraham Loeb, the director of the ITC, the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, and the head chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee.

The researchers say the strange acceleration could the the result of solar radiation pushing a giant solar sail.

They found a sail that was only a fraction of a millimeter thick (0.3-0.9 mm) would be sufficient for a sheet of solid material to survive the journey through the entire galaxy.

Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by humans, including the Japanese-designed IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative with which he is involved.

Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment, they wrote.

"Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," they added.

Another option, which explains the lack of communication, a lack of any kind of signal could mean the giant object is actually an "alien shipwreck".

"‘Oumuamua’s entry velocity is found to be extremely close to the velocity of the Local Standard of Rest, in a kinematic region that is occupied by less than 1 to 500 stars."


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