Was last year’s sighting of ’Oumuamua — a mysterious, 400-foot-long, “cigar shaped” object that hurtled past Earth — evidence of an advanced alien civilization from outside the Milky Way Galaxy?
A paper set to be published by the chair of the Harvard astrophysics suggests such an explanation might be in order. It presents a couple compelling arguments: For one, observations showed ‘Oumuamua could not be a comet, as it lacked a cloud of gas. Secondly, for a normal object to achieve ‘Oumuamua’s acceleration, it would have to be less than a millimeter thick. Yet an object this thin would have been obliterated by interstellar travel.
This left the authors, Avi Loeb and Shmuel Bialy, with two explanations: either 'Oumuamua was debris from the interstellar equipment of an advanced alien civilization, or it was a live probe, sent to observe Earth. Naturally, this ignited an explosion of controversy in the scientific community.
One critic, Alan Jackson, a fellow at the Centre for Planetary Sciences at the University of Toronto Scarborough, was quick to pan the theory: “I am distinctly unconvinced and honestly think the study is rather flawed,” Jackson told CNN.
Per Katie Mack, Assistant Professor of Physics at NC State, the argument is far from a certain truth: “The thing you have to understand is: scientists are perfectly happy to publish an outlandish idea if it has even the tiniest *sliver* of a chance of not being wrong,” Mack wrote on Twitter. “But until every other possibility has been exhausted dozen times over, even the authors probably don’t believe it.”
Mack was not far off the mark. Bialy himself admitted he wasn’t ready to believe the results: “Most probably, our paper is wrong and there’s a more simple explanation [for ‘Oumuamua],” Bialy told Quartz. “But so far, no one’s put forward a better explanation for what the interstellar object could be. If it isn’t aliens, astrophysicists have to come up with a better option.”
Vahe Peroomian, Associate Professor (Teaching) of Physics and Astronomy at USC, believes there is a better option; or, at least, one with more rigorous analysis to support its claims: a paper published in June 2018, suggesting comet-like outgassing behavior is responsible for the strange behavior observed last year.
"Having read the … [outgassing] paper, I can see that they've rigorously analyzed how the speed of 'Oumuamua changed as it entered and exited our solar system," Peroomian said. "I don't see the same level of rigor from the new paper by Bialy and Loeb."
USC Professor of Astronomy Edward Rhodes, for one, does not rule out the possibility of 'Oumuamua having an alien nature.
“I don’t think they are saying that this object is currently making observations within the solar system, but [rather it] is likely something that stopped functioning some time in the past,” Rhodes said. “Nevertheless, if other experts agree with their claims, it would suggest (not prove) that other civilizations do exist that are at least somewhat more advanced than we are since the object would have to have been launched some time ago.”
Here’s an article to pass the time while scientists make up their minds: 13 Reasons to Believe Aliens are Real. Happy reading!