While most Woodside students associate aliens with science fiction, a new Harvard astronomy report begs to differ.
Two scientists from the department released a report last week revisiting the sudden acceleration of the cigar-shaped ‘Oumuamua asteroid that flew by Earth in October of last year. The report, which was co-written by the chair of Harvard astronomy department, Abraham Loeb, and fellow professor Shmuel Bialy, gives many explanations for this occurrence.
“A more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization” the report states.“ Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that “‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment.”
While the asteroid has been floating around for many years, the story starts back in October of 2017 when the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii found the first interstellar object ever to enter our solar system. Scientists named it ‘Oumuamua, which means “a messenger that reaches out from the distant past” in Hawaiian, to honor its far journey. After taking a few days to pass, researchers immediately noticed something different.
“We should have seen a cloud of dust or gas around it, because when you look at comets, you see a cometary tail, but there is no evidence for anything like that,” Loeb told the Harvard Crimson. ““Light sails — sails that are pushed by light — are being contemplated now in space exploration, ‘Oumuamua might be a similar effort on the part of other civilizations.”
The co-authors argue in the paper that because of its far journey, cigar-like shape, tumbling nature, and speedy exit, ‘Oumuamua may be of “artificial origin“. But even with the paper’s mountains of evidence and meticulous calculations, many experts still disagree with the theory.
“It’s certainly ingenious to show that an object the size of ‘Oumuamua might be sent by aliens to another star system with nothing but a solar sail for power,” Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, told NBC in an email. “But one should not blindly accept this clever hypothesis when there is also a mundane (and a priori more likely) explanation for Oumuamua — namely that it’s a comet or asteroid from afar.”
The same sentiment was shared by many Woodside students as well, many of whom agreed that the report was not convincing enough.
“Why would [the aliens] have any interest in us?” junior Nick Gellrich commented. ”You know, we’re just a tiny dot in the Milky Way! They probably won’t even notice us!”
Space agencies like NASA in the past have built many long range radios and telescopes like the Allen Telescope Array (AHA) in Hat Creek, CA in order to monitor and search for signs of alien life. These are vital as they monitor for movement and radio waves from deep space in the hopes of finding communication from an extraterrestrial life form. Last year, the AHA did check for signs of technology on ‘Oumuamua but didn’t find any evidence of it, partially contributing to the speculation over this new report.
Unfortunately, the asteroid is already long gone, and out of the reach of Earth’s telescopes, meaning scientists cannot double check the AHA’s findings and see if there is evidence of alien life, but that does not mean agencies are giving up on the search of life on other planets.
“The search has barely begun– but the age-old question of ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ could be answered in our lifetime,” the SETI institute’s website boldly proclaims.