this space object was not sent by aliens to save us

this space object was not sent by aliens to save us

  06 Nov 2018

Just to be on the safe side, astronomers at the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia specifically listened for signals from any electronic device that might be attached to the object. They didn’t hear a peep.

The Pan-STARRS1 Observatory on Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii discovered "Oumuamua".

The Pan-STARRS1 Observatory on Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii discovered “Oumuamua”.Credit:AP

But then a preprint of a research paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal appeared online this week, posing an “exotic scenario” in which the ‘Oumuamua was a solar-powered probe built by an alien civilisation.

There’s no actual evidence to support this idea.

Indeed, the majority of the study is devoted to examining how radiation pressure from the sun might push on a natural object and contribute to ‘Oumuamua’s unexplained acceleration. This phenomenon is the basis for a proposed method of spacecraft propulsion called light sails, which is how we get from “whoa, weird rock” to “it might be aliens!” The study authors justify their speculation by arguing that the probability of an ordinary comet intercepting our solar system after being ejected by its home star is very small.

As astrophysicist Katie Mack pointed out on Twitter, coming up with far-out explanations for slightly strange phenomena is one of astronomers’ favorite parlour games. (Remember the alien megastructure that turned out to be a star swathed in dust?)

That doesn’t mean you need to stock up on canned goods and tin foil hats every time a weird theory gets published.

“Until every other possibility has been exhausted dozen times over, even the authors probably don’t believe it,” Mack said.

Other astronomers were not so forgiving of their colleagues’ speculation.

Paul M. Sutter tweeted “My publicist asked me for a quote on the ‘Oumuamua story making the rounds. Here it is:

“‘No, ‘Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inquiry to even suggest it.’

“Feel free to use that, @fcain, @tariqjmalik!”

Since ‘Oumuamua has already sped far from our solar system, out of reach of all telescopes, scientists are stuck with the data they have. Luckily, there’s reams of it – and scores of more likely explanations for the comet’s behaviour have not been exhausted.

So, go ahead, Americans, and cast your vote like this is the only world we have, and no one else is out there to save us from ourselves.

Washington Post

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