Scientists push back on Harvard ‘alien spacecraft’ theory
WASHINGTON: A scientific paper led by two researchers at Harvard University made a splash this week by claiming that a cigar-shaped rock zooming through our solar system may have been sent by aliens.
The researchers noted in a pre-print of the article that it was an “exotic scenario”, but that “Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilisation”.
Oumuamua, the first interstellar object known to enter our solar system, accelerated faster away from the Sun than expected, hence the notion that some kind of artificial sail that runs on sunlight – known as a light sail – may have helped push it through space.
“Currently there is an unexplained phenomena, namely, the excess acceleration of Oumuamua, which we show may be explained by the force of radiation pressure from the sun,” co-author and Harvard astrophysicist Shmuel Bialy told AFP via email on Tuesday.
“However this requires the body to have a very large surface and be very thin, which is not encountered in nature.”
Their suggestion of an alien force at work went viral.
But other astronomy experts are not buying it.
“Like most scientists, I would love there to be convincing evidence of alien life, but this isn’t it,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, an astrophysicist at Queens University in Belfast.
“It has already been shown that its observed characteristics are consistent with a comet-like body ejected from another star system.
“And some of the arguments in this study are based on numbers with large uncertainties,” he said.
“Scientists are perfectly happy to publish an outlandish idea if it has even the tiniest sliver of a chance of not being wrong,” North Carolina State University astrophysicist Katie Mack said.
The other co-author, Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department, said humanity may never know more about the mysterious object, since it has travelled far away and is not heading back. – AFP
This handout image released by the European Southern Observatory on Nov 20, 2017 shows an artist’s impression of Oumuamua.