Is ‘Oumuamua an asteroid, a comet or extraterrestrial skipping stone?

Image credit JJones |

Three years after the event, there is still debate and controversy about what ‘Oumuamua actually is. In 2017, this strange-shaped object flitted through our solar system, and we were lucky to detect it.

Now a Harvard astronomer named Avi Loeb is about to publish a book to argue his case that ‘Oumuamua is, in fact, a messenger from an alien civilisation. He proposes that because of its peculiar (at least to us) trajectory, its shape and the fact that it emitted no, or very little, gas, it must point to an advanced alien civilisation saying hello.

One thing is for sure and that is that it is a strange encounter.

‘Oumuamua followed none of the established laws of our solar system. It was travelling at immense speeds, and it was shaped, scientists believe, like a skipping stone. The sort you might use to bounce across the lake when you are bored with the picnic.

So, you have to wonder.

If you were a project manager in the Lyra system and your task was to see whether Earthlings were ready to be engaged, what would you do? Would you turn up with the army and demand to be taken to their leader? Only if you had been tuning in to too much Earth TV. Would you send a small posse, under cover of darkness, to shake hands with an Israeli intelligence operative? Possibly.

Or would you skip a stone through their solar system and see whether they had advanced enough technology to pick it up and make sensible use of the data they would collect. That, at least, sounds plausible.

‘Oumuamua may just be a shard that was flung from a planet that was taken out by an exploding star. Many scientists believe that is the case. The vast majority of them believe that it is of natural origin. This, of course, does not rule out that it was flipped into our solar system by aliens.

Yet, as your cynicism battles with your overactive imagination, and you turn to respected sources such as Science Daily to help with a little perspective, you see headlines like these:

  • Unknown asteroid, likely the size of Ceres;
  • Dark storm on Neptune reverses direction;
  • Radio emissions from Exoplanet detected.

And you conclude that there are more things out there, where ‘Oumuamua lives, than we may ever know the truth about.

So, while the majority of scientists will do what scientists always do – try and fit something extraordinary into our view of the world/solar system – some will dare to think differently.

And Avi Loeb has dared to think differently. And publish his thoughts.

While the majority of your brain may want to pigeonhole ‘Oumuamua as an asteroid from outside our solar system, there must also be a little bit of you that believes it is a skipping stone. And once ‘they’ know that we have the technology to spot it and have these conversations, they may just bring that posse.

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