They really just might be out there


Harvard researchers suggest the mysterious asteroid Oumuamua just might be an alien probe.

The object is definitely from outside the solar system: It was moving faster than 70,000 mph when first seen last year, on a trajectory that plainly indicates an extra-solar origin. That’s why the Maui-based astronomers who spotted it named it with a Hawaiian word meaning “scout” or “messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to us.”

In a paper in next week’s Astrophysical Journal Letters, Harvard’s Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb add another piece to the puzzle: The object behaved oddly as it passed the sun, speeding up to 196,000 mph.

That could be the result of “outgassing”: frozen gases melting in the solar heat, and acting like rocket fuel. But that’s usually seen in comets — which typically break completely apart if they get that near to the sun.

Alternately, they note, the cigar-shaped asteroid may somehow function as a “light sail” — an object that reacts to solar radiation the way a normal sail uses wind.

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