Date: November 2, 2018
By: Mark Prigg
• Mysterious object Oumuamua arrived in our solar system in October 2017
• NASA spotted unexpected boost in speed and shift in trajectory as it passed through the inner solar system last year
• Now one study claims it could actually be a solar sail sent by aliens
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.’
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|Astronomers from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics concluded that the strange asteroid ‘might be a lightsail of artificial origin.’|
WHAT IS A LIGHTSAIL?
Much like the wind pushing a sailboat through water, solar sails rely on sunlight to propel vehicles through space.
The sail captures constantly streaming solar particles, called photons, with giant sails built from a lightweight material.
Over time, the buildup of these particles provides enough thrust for a spacecraft to travel in space.
The study – ‘Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain ‘Oumuamua’s Peculiar Acceleration?’, which recently appeared online – 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.
|The JPL team has not yet worked out how to power the craft – and many of their ideas rely on technology that doesn’t yet exist, such as this laser sail being developed by the Breakthrough project, which hopes to make to same trip to Alpha Centairi.|
‘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’.
Professor Loeb previously wrote in Scientific American, ‘Oumuamua could be the first known case of an artificial relic which floated into our Solar System from interstellar space.
‘This opportunity establishes a potential foundation for a new frontier of space archaeology, namely the study of relics from past civilizations in space,’
‘Finding evidence for space junk of artificial origin would provide an affirmative answer to the age-old question ‘Are we alone?’. This would have a dramatic impact on our culture and add a new cosmic perspective to the significance of human activity.’
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