The physicist and astronomer who discovered the Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever discovered in the solar system, said a theory that the object is “a lightsail of artificial origin” is wild speculation.
A study from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics released this month suggested the 1,300-foot-long object might be a “lightsail.”
“There’s a maximum speed that you can be traveling to be bound gravitationally by the sun,” astronomer Robert Weryk told the CBC. “When we first saw this object, it was traveling faster than that, so we know for a fact that it’s from outside our solar system. We decided that it was a comet that had a bit of outgassing that wasn’t visible from the ground, which is why it didn’t appear to be a comet.”
He added: “(The Harvard researchers) decided to focus on another aspect of that, that it’s an alien spacecraft and that it has a solar sail type material that’s causing the non-gravitational trajectory. But we actually believe that’s not true based on the data we obtained.”
Oumuamua, he said, is likely a “remnant from another solar system,” the CBC reported. “It’s just something that happened to run into us, and we were very lucky to have been operating the telescope that night and looking in that direction,” he said.
The Harvard researchers on Nov. 12 told Fox News that the study “attempts to explain the excess force” that acted on Oumuamua.
“Our paper follows the standard scientific methodology: an anomaly is observed in data, the standard explanation fails to explain it and so an alternative interpretation is proposed,” Loeb told the network He said Weryk’s comment “shows prejudice.”
“I encourage anyone with a better explanation to write a paper about it and publish it. Any wrong interpretation can be ruled out when more data will be released on `Oumuamua or other members of its population in the future. A reaction of the type you quoted shows prejudice,” he said.
Weryk’s work primarily focuses on searching for asteroids that pose a danger to earth.
“Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” researchers said in the Harvard paper (pdf) on Nov. 1. It noted that the object had “peculiar acceleration” through space.
“Such an acceleration is naturally expected for comets, driven by the evaporating material. However, recent observational and theoretical studies imply that ‘Oumuamua is not an active comet,” the researchers said.
The Harvard study added: “Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative. The lightsail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars.”