Listen, we’re going to try and report some actual science for you, our sci-fi loving friends. But when the actual, real, honest-to-God-it-exists object in question is hurtling through outer space and shares a name with an inane lyric from the “Surfin’ Bird (Bird is the Word)” song, it makes it really hard to take us seriously!
Alas, such is the case today: there is a celestial object, Oumuamua, that has been behaving so erratically in our solar system that several scientists have started to wonder (out loud, no less!) if it might be a probe or something similar of alien design. (For the record, the object didn’t get its name directly from the silly song mentioned above, but rather according to Wikipedia from the “Hawaiian ʻoumuamua, meaning ‘scout,’ and reflects the way this object is like a scout or messenger sent from the distant past to reach out to humanity.” Neat!)
So, Oumuamua is out in space and was observed by Earth-bound scientists as it tumbled past the sun in 2017. But here’s the odd part: it’s not shaped like the “usual” asteroid or comet, due to it’s long, skinny, cigar-like formation, and it appeared to be accelerating at times and speeds not normal for an “inanimate” object. So, it’s from aliens, right?
Avi Loeb certainly seems to think so. Loeb is the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department and a co-author of a recent paper that alleges just that. Credit Loeb for being ballsy enough to speak his mind, as the scientific paper boldly states that Oumuamua “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.” In a recent interview, Loeb also said:
“It is impossible to guess the purpose behind Oumuamua without more data. [However,] I follow the maxim of Sherlock Holmes: When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Of course, not all scientists are ready to come right out and welcome our new alien overlords. When reached for comment on the matter, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute Seth Shostak had this to say:
“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. 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.”
Adding further fuel to the no-fun fire is Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. Bailer-Jones shared his opinion on Oumuamua:
“In science, we must ask ourselves, ‘Where is the evidence?,’ not ‘Where is the lack of evidence so that I can fit in any hypothesis that I like?’ Why [would aliens] send a spacecraft which is doing this? If it were a spacecraft, this tumbling would make it impossible to keep any instruments pointed at the Earth. Of course, one could now say it was an accident, or the aliens did this to deceive us. One can always come up with increasingly implausible suggestions that have no evidence in order to maintain an idea.”
What do you think, sci-fi fans? Is Oumuamua “first contact” material? Or is it just a giant space turd that got flung a little too wobbily from some far-off galaxy? And do you now definitely have “Surfin Bird” stuck in your head for the rest of the day? Share your thoughts and theories below!