Harvard Scientists Speculate on Possible 'Artificial Origin' for Unidentified Object 'Oumuamua'

An artist’s rendition of the cigar-shaped cosmic object.  (Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

An artist’s rendition of the cigar-shaped cosmic object. (Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

In the draft version of a research paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal, researchers Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb with the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics speculated November 1st on a possible artificial origin for the unidentified cigar-shaped object—nicknamed Oumuamua—that entered our solar system in 2017.

The paper, which asks the question “Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain ‘Oumuamua's' Peculiar Acceleration?” in its title, ponders if solar radiation could be responsible for the unusual object leaving our solar system at a greater speed than when it entered—a baffling occurrence for an inert object floating in space.

If Oumuama is a naturally occurring object, then it represents something never before seen by science.

"If radiation pressure is the accelerating force, then ‘Oumuamua’ represents a new class of thin interstellar material, either produced naturally, through a yet unknown process in the [interstellar medium] or in proto-planetary disks, or of an artificial origin," read the report.

The scientists considered that the object could be a lightsail or probe created by an advanced society.

"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. "Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative 2. The lightsail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars."

"Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua’ may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," continued the researchers.

Oumuamua was first discovered in October of 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii.

The mysterious object was found to be following an orbit that indicates it originated outside of our solar system, and isn’t simply making a return visit; nor does it release the gas and dust that would be typical of a comet.

Oumuamua’s origin and composition remain unexplained, and it has since passed out of the solar system and is no longer visible to our telescopes—which means it may forever remain a mystery.

Tobias Wayland