Last year, the internet lit up after an astronomer suggested an ‘alien megastructure’ could be orbiting a distant star.
Now the stargazer behind this extraordinary theory has put forward an argument which could prove that a cigar-shaped asteroid called Oumuamua which zoomed through our solar system at 196,000 miles per hour is a probe sent by an extraterrestrial civilisation.
Oumuamua is the first object to have been observed in our star system after travelling here through deep space. It’s about the size of The Gherkin in London, which stands 180 metres tall.
Scientists from Breakthrough Listen, an alien-hunting organisation led by Professor Stephen Hawking, are planning to use the world’s largest directable radio telescope, at Green Bank in West Virginia, to see if the asteroid is emitting radio waves.
But Jason Wright, an associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, said the motion of the strange object could be key to discovering whether it is a piece of alien technology or just a weirdly-shaped asteroid.
Astronomers believe it could be ‘tumbling’ through space, rather than speeding through space like a rocket or aeroplane.
This claim is remarkable in itself because Oumuamua would have to be far more rigid than most asteroids to survive this kind of motion for a long time without breaking apart.
Now Wright has made the astonishing suggestion that a spacecraft whose engines have failed would tumble in exactly the way as the interstellar asteroid.
Sadly, the astronomer doesn’t actually believe Oumuamua is alien in origin, but he set out the following thought experiment on his blog:
‘Such derelict craft would, if they are not travelling so fast that they escape the Galaxy, eventually ‘thermalize’ with the stars and end up drifting around like any other interstellar comet or asteroid,’ he wrote.
‘In fact, since they (presumably) no longer have attitude control, one would expect that they would eventually begin to tumble, and if they are very rigid that tumbling might distinguish them from ordinary interstellar asteroids… and in fact, just because their propulsion is broken doesn’t mean that their radio transmitters would be broken.’
He went on to describe the theory that aliens might use ‘Von Neumann probes’ to explore the system.
These are theoretical self-replicating crafts which visit star systems, replicate themselves using the resources they find and then speed off to explore other parts of the universe.
If even one of these spacecraft were discovered, it could mean there were vast numbers out there in space.
Wright added: ‘Such a discovery would imply that there are lots of these things in the solar system at any given moment (even if they are deliberately targeting the sun, they are hard to spot and we’ll miss most of them), and so lots of opportunities to study them.’
Jason Wright achieved global fame after suggesting the mysterious dimming of star KIC 8462852 – also known as Tabby’s Star – could be caused by an alien megastructure called a Dyson Sphere, a theoretical bit of alien tech which surrounds an entire star and harvests its energy.
One of the reasons Oumuamua has grabbed the world’s attention is because experts believe an alien spaceship would have a similar shape.
In a blog, Breakthrough Listen wrote: ‘Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft since this would minimize friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust.
‘While a natural origin is more likely, there is currently no consensus on what that origin might have been, and Breakthrough Listen is well positioned to explore the possibility that ‘Oumuamua could be an artefact.’
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