A strange cigar-shaped object has stung scientists since it made a small detour through our solar system in 2017. Nicknamed Oumuamua (real name 1I/ʻOumuamua), it was first observed at the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii in October 2017. Subsequently, Oumuamua began moving at an unusually high speed and in an orbit different from that of comets or asteroids, which led scientists to conclude a hypothesis that caused more than one person to tremble.
It was the first “interstellar object” to arrive, but its visit was brief. After being spotted over Chile and other places, Oumuamua left our system in January 2018, leaving many questions in its wake.
Today, two researchers from Harvard University (more precisely the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), present a surprising suggestion in a new article that analyses the movement of the object.
Indeed, the two researchers and astrophysicists Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb state in this article that the Oumuamua object would be propelled into space by the pressure of solar radiation, which could explain its unusual speed. But for this theory to work, they deduced that the object would have to be exceptionally thin. Bialy and Loeb then analyze how such a thin object could withstand collisions with dust, gases and other stellar objects, as well as the rotational force, during its interstellar travel.
“The most exotic scenario is that Oumuamua could be a fully operational probe intentionally sent near Earth by a foreign civilization,” they write.
They suggest that Oumuamua could have a propulsion system called “Lightsail” which would be an artificial technology that uses the pressure of solar radiation to move.
This technology is being developed on Earth for the Breakthrough Starshot initiative, which aims to launch probes into space powered by solar sails and for which Loeb is the chairman of the advisory committee.
Their paper, which was not peer-reviewed, was published on the arXiv pre-printing platform for the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Loeb is well known for his theories on possible extraterrestrial technologies. He had previously suggested that strong radio signals detected in 2007 could be the work of foreigners travelling in space on solar sails. However, the theory deals more with possibility than probability, Loeb told the Washington Post.
Credit of all images in this article: ESO / M. Kornmesser (artist’s vision)