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10 November 2018, 01:17 | Brenda Erickson
Interstellar asteroid could be 'alien' mission searching for life
The mysterious, elongated object named Oumuamua that hurtled past Earth previous year could have been an alien spacecraft, according to astronomers from Harvard University.
In their new paper, Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggest Oumuamua could have been "a lightsail of artificial origin".
"Oumuamua" has confounded researchers since it was first spotted a year ago by the Pan-STARRS1 telescope atop Mount Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii.
Astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) have detected an unexpected boost in speed and shift in trajectory in the red object named Oumuamua as it passed through the inner solar system.
Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard's astronomy department and co-author of the paper, told NBC News: "It is impossible to guess the objective behind Oumuamua without more data".
"But, Loeb said, the fact that we've observed one interstellar object like Oumuama suggests that others may be out there".
It is known that comets are accelerated through a process known as "degassing" when the sun heats the icy surface, releasing the molten gas.
"The likelihood of Galactic panspermia is strongly dependent upon the survival lifetime of the putative organisms as well as the velocity of the transporter", Manasvi Lingam and Loeb from this current study said in another paper published previously in the Astrophysical Journal. Not all shells are the same, and similarly only a fraction of the interstellar objects might be technological debris of alien civilizations. "Since it is too late to image Oumuamua with existing telescopes or chase it with chemical rockets", they wrote, "its likely origin and properties could only be deciphered by searching for other objects of its type in the future".
"Aliens would only come into all of this if you accept their assumption (and that's what it is; it doesn't come from the data) that "Oumuamua is sail-like, and also assume nothing like that can be natural", Bailer-Jones wrote in an email".
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