The scientific screaming match erupts about whether Oumuamua is an alien spaceship


Scientists are still confused by last year's interstellar visitors, umu Oumuamua, and the latest theories will surely excite UFO adherents. According to a new paper published by Harvard University astronomers, mammoths, cigar-shaped rocks that swing in and out of our solar system in October 2017 have some strange properties that show it is a foreign spacecraft. And while & # 39; Oumuamua's unique physical properties have prompted some scientists to speculate about aliens, other scientists are unsure and even worry about the effects of these expectations.

"& # 39; Oumuamua may be a full operational investigation sent intentionally around the Earth by alien civilization," wrote writer Abraham Loeb, professor and chair of astronomy, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral scholar, both at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"Oumuamua, which is Hawaii for" a distant object, "was first observed by postdoctoral researchers at the University of Hawaii who were sorting through data from the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey of the sky. Researchers saw it as very elongated, like a stick, with the long axis is 10 times longer than its short axis.The researchers suggest that its shape will minimize abrasion from interstellar gas and dust, making it an ideal form for interstellar spacecraft, then in May, a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggest 'Oumuamua swinging towards our solar system as a result of the gravity slingshot binary star system.

The researcher landed on another final world conclusion by focusing on one of the most interesting properties of rock: an unexpected acceleration trajectory after swinging through the sun, which shows it was driven by sunlight. Because there are no observed signs of comet activity – such as comet tails, or gas emission absorption pathways – that is likely a comet that was ruled out in a paper by Harvard researchers.

"& # 39; Oumuamua deviates from the path which is solely determined by the gravity of the Sun," Loeb told Salon in a statement. "This could be the result of comet outings, but there is no evidence for the tail of the comet around it. In addition, comets change their spin period and no changes are detected for & # 39; Oumuamua. "

After hypothesizing through a mathematical model, the authors speculate that the non-gravitational acceleration 'Oumuamua is due to solar radiation pressure.

"The only other explanation that comes to mind is the extra power given to Oumuamua by sunlight," Loeb told Salon. "To be effective," Oumuamua must be less than one millimeter, like a screen. This prompted us to suggest that it might be a screen of light produced by alien civilization. "

Light sailing propulsion systems have been made on Earth, and their original date dates back to the 1970s, when NASA played with the idea of ​​flying a sun screen to Halley's comet. This project was canceled, but the non-profit Planetary Society has since succeeded in making their own program to build light-powered spacecraft.

But it is precisely this speculation that causes a small row among scientists. Some researchers tell Salon the theory that Oumuamua is a defective display of foreign light, and falls outside the realm of science, because it cannot be conquered.

"In science we have to be very careful about our hypothesis," Paul Sutter, an astrophysicist at Ohio State University, told Salon. "My main criticism is that as soon as you introduce aliens as a hypothesis, you stop doing science, because aliens are able to do whatever they want."

Sutter said there was no way to test such a hypothesis.

"We are free to have the ideas we want, and crazy ideas are accepted, but they need to be tested," Sutter said. "Since [aliens are] always available You will never be able to put it aside, that's why you can't do science with it. "

The uncertainty and strange behavior of Oumuamua caused researchers to speculate about the origin of space, Sutter said, adding that scientists must be more patient or accepting that they would never know what the foreign stone was this time.

"Our only hope is that Oumuamua is not the only one out there, and that there are other random rocks falling through our solar system, and hopefully we can find observing & # 39; cousin Oumuamua or great aunt [next]," he says.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at Search for Extracurricular Intelligence (SETI), told Salon that the theory might be "an exotic solution to a very ordinary situation."

"This could be the solar screen of someone who enters our solar system or who deliberately targets us, [but] You cannot say that is not true because there is no way to prove that is true, "Shostak told the Salon.

Shostak added that if it was an alien spacecraft intentionally sent, it should be noted that it was not too close to Earth.

"You would think it would be an attractive target for them," he said. "It just came, swung around the sun, and came back out; it's like someone interesting moving into the neighborhood, walking in your house, and they don't knock on the door or anything, so I don't understand. "

Dr. Michael Wall, senior author at and the author of the forthcoming book "Out There", said while he thought that it was impossible ‘Oumuamua was a foreign spacecraft, chances were it shouldn't be completely ruled out.

"I don't think it's possible, but aliens almost have to be the last explanation," he said. "You have to get rid of all natural explanations first, but I don't think it should be stopped."

Because there is nothing like "Oumuamua" has been observed in our solar system, natural explanations may still be unknown to humans.

"Most likely we don't have enough information and we might never do it," Wall said. "This is interesting, but it just shows there is a thin line that we need to go through being too disparaging and overconfident."

At the end of the day, this paper has become the topic of conversation among many scientists. Loeb told Salon that he did not expect the paper to attract so much attention.

"I am happy to see the excitement about the paper, but it was not written for that purpose," Loeb said. "We just followed the standard practice of scientific research."

Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a news writer at the Salon. He covers health, science, technology and gender politics. Tweet him @nicolekarlis.
Nicole Karlis


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