Was interstellar object an alien sail? Not so fast

'Oumuamua

An artist’s conception shows what the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua might look like. (ESO Illustration / M. Kornmesser)

‘Oumuamua is long gone from the inner solar system, but the mystery surrounding the interstellar interloper has been rekindled, thanks to a research paper written by two Harvard astronomers.

The paper, suggesting that the cigar-shaped object could have been an alien light sail, sparked headlines as well as skepticism from colleagues claiming that the astronomers were jumping to conclusions.

Among the skeptics is Doug Vakoch, who heads up METI, a San Francisco-based organization devoted to the study of alien contact. (The acronym stands for “Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence.”)

“I’d love to think that ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial spacecraft that whipped past Earth, propelled by a stream of photons hitting its solar sail. But we need to be wary of conjuring up an explanation that fits the data gathered at one point in time, when we have no opportunity for follow-up observations,” Vakoch told me in an email.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Award-winning science writer, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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