Auf unserem Blog haben wir mehrfach über 'Oumuamua' object berichtet und eigentlich ist die Sache abgehakt bis auf soviele "Wenn-Faktoren" welche wir aus unsäglich vielen Spekulationen über Außerirdische kennen. Und zugegeben die Faszination es sich hierbei um einen Nachbarn aus dem All gehandelt hat und schnell das Weite suchte ist schon da, wäre da nicht die harten Fakten die gegen diese schöne Vorstellung sprechen...
Harvard researchers raise the possibility that it's a probe sent by extraterrestrials.
Maybe it's an alien spacecraft.
Scientists have been puzzling over Oumuamua ever since the mysterious space object was observed tumbling past the sun in late 2017. Given its high speed and its unusual trajectory, the reddish, stadium-sized whatever-it-is had clearly come from outside our solar system. But its flattened, elongated shape and the way it accelerated on its way through the solar system set it apart from conventional asteroids and comets.
Now a pair of Harvard researchers are raising the possibility that Oumuamua is an alien spacecraft. As they say in a paper to be published Nov. 12 in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the object "may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization."
The researchers aren't claiming outright that aliens sent Oumuamua. But after a careful mathematical analysis of the way the interstellar object sped up as it shot past the sun, they say Oumuamua could be a spacecraft pushed through space by light falling on its surface — or, as they put it in the paper, a "lightsail of artificial origin."
Who would have sent such a spacecraft our way — and why?
"It is impossible to guess the purpose behind Oumuamua without more data," Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard's astronomy department and a co-author of the paper, told NBC News MACH in an email. If Oumuamua is a lightsail, he added, one possibility is that it was floating in interstellar space when our solar system ran into it, "like a ship bumping into a buoy on the surface of the ocean."
Artist's concept of a lightsail above Earth.Josh Spradling / The Planetary Society
Loeb and his collaborator, Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, acknowledge that the alien spacecraft scenario is an "exotic" one. And perhaps not surprisingly, other space scientists have strong doubts about it.
"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," Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, said in an email. "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."
Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, voiced similar objections. "In science," he said in an email, "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 send a spacecraft which is doing this?" he said. "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."
But Loeb called the conjecture "purely scientific and evidence-based," adding, "I follow the maxim of Sherlock Holmes: When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
The truth may be hard to establish, as Oumuamua has left the solar system and is no longer visible even with telescopes. In any case, Loeb said, the fact that we've observed one interstellar object like Oumuama suggests that others may be out there — and astronomers should begin a search for them.
"A survey for lightsails as technosignatures [of extraterrestrial civilizations] in the solar system is warranted," he said, "irrespective of whether Oumuamua is one of them."
How to spot internet alien panic from a light-year away
Perhaps you've heard: Alien panic is sweeping the internet.
You can't go more than a week or two without a new and ridiculous story about life maybe being out there in the universe going viral, spawning breathless coverage and debunks alike. It's exhausting.
This week, all that alien panic is swirling around a story citing a Harvard astronomer claiming that the first interstellar asteroid or comet ever discovered named 'Oumuamua might actually have been sent by aliens from distant space. It's sensational! It's perfect for the internet! It's also something you should be totally skeptical of.
Start with the motto "It's never aliens," and work back from there. But that's easier said than done.
Here are just a few things to think about the next time you're trying to spot an alien panic (or aliens) on the internet:
Who's the source?
This is the big one. Always question where a story is coming from — with aliens and with anything else.
In the case of the interstellar asteroid piece going around this week the story is based on the conjectures of one Harvard researcher, who gave NBC a quote speculating that the asteroid might be an alien ship sailing on the radiation of our sun.
The piece was pegged to a new study that hasn't yet been peer-reviewed, which briefly mentions the idea that maybe aliens could have sent the asteroid into the far-reaches of space based on how it's moving.
Effectively, all of this alien panic coverage was stirred up from one quote from one researcher. So here's a good rule of thumb: Offhand comments do not new stories make.
Now, if the piece announcing aliens was heavily sourced to more than one astronomer and had plenty of peer-reviewed evidence behind it, things might be different.
How is it written?
You can learn a lot about a story based on the way it's written. As for a good story about aliens, you want it to have more than one source, or at the very least, plenty of context.
For example, a quick search shows that scientists actually kept an ear out for any radio signals being sent by 'Oumuamua when it passed through the solar system last year. However, they didn't find anything. That's the kind of context that needs to be in any news story about this particular finding.
Do a quick Google search to figure out exactly what's being said about the story. If you find a debunk — of which there are many for 'Oumuamua — that's a pretty good indication that perhaps the more breathless takes aren't what they seem.
Also, always be wary of appeals to authority in journalism. If the story (and headline) rely heavily on just one researcher from a high-profile institution, then the story probably isn't news at all.
Which publication wrote the story?
While how the story is written is the most important tool you can use to judge an alien news story, a look at which publication is running the story can also help you evaluate whether the news is something to get excited about.
Ask whether the publication has a history of covering science in a reliable way. (Look to places like The Verge, Ars Technica, big newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, The Atlantic, and, yes, Mashable for really consistently good science coverage.)
It's probably best not to trust a tabloid when it comes to science writing as a rule. If science-minded publications aren't writing about this, or if they're more skeptical, be skeptical as well.
What's the timing?
You can figure out a lot about an alien story if you know why it's being published when it is.
NASA is the master of inducing alien panic with obvious timing. Usually, the space agency will announce a press conference for either 1 p.m. ET on a Wednesday or 2 p.m. ET on a Thursday under the auspices of some exciting announcement related to "life in the solar system," or some other tantalizing news nugget.
While the agency won't give away what the actual news is, the savvy observer can actually figure out a bit about the story.
If the press conference is announced for one of those specific times, it will correspond with an embargoed study being released in one of two major science journals — either Science or Nature. (We know this because journalists have embargoed access to these journals each week.)
In all likelihood, that means the story will be compelling, but probably not definitive proof of alien life.
The truth is, if you're hoping for some kind of "we've found little green men announcement," then the White House will almost definitely be involved. Cool incremental science stuff about microbial life out there in the universe, however, will likely come through the journals and NASA.
I don't want to be a buzzkill. It's fun to think about aliens. It's great to wonder about whether we're alone in the universe.
But, at least for now, it's just a thought experiment. Just remember one thing: It's never aliens ... until it is.
The interstellar object Oumuamua is almost certainly not an alien spaceship
NASA simulation of the object known as Oumuamua tumbling through space. Credit: NASA
Ever since it was first spotted in 2017, the interstellar asteroid known as Oumuamua, meaning "scout" or "messenger" in Hawaiian, has garnered much interest among astronomers and the public. Its origins, composition and shape have grabbed peoples' imaginations. Now a forthcoming study from Harvard University researchers make the bold claim that the object is actually an alien spacecraft — or a "light sail" of alien origin — tumbling away from Earth.
The big picture: This study is not the first, nor is it likely the last time that an alien-origin hypothesis has been raised about Oumuamua. However, in science, the most outlandish claims are not usually the most likely, and they require rigorous examination by outside researchers before they can be accepted.
The details: This new study, first posted to Cornell University's arXiv e-print archive prior to its publication in Astrophysical Journal Letters, has the imprimatur of Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard's astronomy department, which gives it some credibility.
The study focuses on an apparent acceleration in the object as it moved through our solar system, which scientists discovered in 2018 and attributed to dust and gases escaping the object as the sun warmed it up. Such outgassing is regularly observed in comets, but Oumuamua is not clearly defined as a comet.
However, the new study puts forward the possibility that the increase in speed could have come from solar radiation pressure. If this was the case, then it might mean that Oumuamua (pronounced oh-MOO-ah-MOO-a) is "a new class of thin interstellar material" that formed naturally or is alien in origin. Specifically, it could be a solar light sail, designed to be carried along by the solar wind.
Or perhaps it's something more fascinating, and possibly even frightening. The study states: "A more exotic scenario is that 'Oumuamua' may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization."
But, but, but: More information is needed before making any firm conclusions about Oumuamua. Loeb himself told NBC News, for example, that "It is impossible to guess the purpose behind Oumuamua without more data." Other researchers have cast further doubt on the alien origin hypothesis with observations from 2017 showing that there were no signals coming from it to indicate it was communicating in any way, per Mashable.
Although the paper is online already, it is pre-peer review and provides evidence of an anomaly that could allow for the possibility that Oumuamua is of alien origin, but does not prove that this is the case.
In addition, jumping to the conclusion that this is an alien spacecraft or a light sail, which is tempting from online news headlines, is akin to grabbing hold of the least likely explanation. After all, scientists are confident that alien life exists, but the most likely scenario for finding it is the discovery of microbial life on another planet, rather than an encounter with an alien spaceship traveling from another solar system.
In an interview with NBC, Coryn Bailer-Jones, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, summarized the reaction in the broader science community. "In science," he told the network, "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?'"
Via Twitter, Ohio State astrophysicist Paul Sutter bluntly refuted the study's claims. "No, 'Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inquiry to even suggest it," he stated.