'Oumuamua Alien Theories Explained as Scientists Propose Visiting Mysterious Object

Scientists have proposed a space mission to go and investigate the mysterious cosmic object known as 'Oumuamua, which has fascinated astronomers for years and been theoretically linked to extraterrestrial life.

'Oumuamua was first detected via telescope in 2017 by Robert Weryk, an astronomer based at the Universe of Hawaii, as it passed through our solar system and sling-shotted past the sun at nearly 200,000 miles per hour.

The object is baffling, having eluded classification as either a comet or an asteroid.

One of the strange things about 'Oumuamua is its shape, described as cigar-like by NASA. It is around 10 times as long as it is wide—unlike any other objects seen in the solar system.

Astronomers later confirmed that 'Oumuamua was the first object ever detected to have visited our solar system from another star.

But almost as soon as the object had arrived, it was on its way out, passing the orbits of Mars, then Jupiter in 2018, and then Saturn in 2019.

Astronomers are still not sure exactly where 'Oumuamua came from, and inevitably some theories involve aliens.

To find out exactly what it is, some scientists have proposed launching a mission to visit the object—but this could prove tricky since it is speeding away from us all the time.

A stock photo showing an illustration of what 'Oumuamua might look like. Some theories to explain the space object's existence involve aliens. dottedhippo/Getty

One way to do it would be to use what is called a Solar Oberth Maneuver, which would involve sling-shotting a spacecraft around the sun in order to speed up and catch 'Oumuamua in a couple of decades—but it carries risks, and the need for a heat shield.

In a new draft study published last week, scientists have now proposed another way of reaching the strange object by using the gravitational influence of Venus, Earth, and Jupiter, meaning a probe could potentially reach 'Oumuamua within 26 years or so and avoid the risks of a solar flyby. It could launch as soon as 2028, the authors say.

It should be noted that the study does not yet appear to have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Alien Theories

Almost inevitably, some theories surrounding the origins of 'Oumuamua involve intelligent extraterrestrial life.

While that may sound unrealistic, one of the most prominent proponents of such a theory is Avi Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr., professor of science and astrophysics at Harvard University.

In 2018, Loeb co-authored a study in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, investigating the potential origins of the space object in which the possibility that it is "of an artificial origin" was seriously considered.

Loeb and his colleague wrote that 'Oumuamua could possibly be something called a lightsail—technology that uses light from the sun or other stars to push it through space.

This, they said, could explain the object's strange shape as well as the fact that it is so highly reflective and seems to move through space without shedding a tail of material like comets do.

That is not the most striking suggestion in Loeb's report, however. Another section reads: "Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that 'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization."

A Mission to 'Oumuamua?

Speaking to Newsweek, Loeb said last week's draft paper proposing a 2028 mission to the space object was "interesting" but voiced concerns about the associated difficulty.

"My concern is that the small uncertainty we have about 'Oumuamua's path, as a result of the non-gravitational push it exhibited away from the Sun, translates to a large uncertainty in its current position," he said.

"Also, at its current distance from the Sun, 'Oumuamua is more than a million times fainter than it was near Earth and any targeting spacecraft will need to be equipped with a large telescope to find 'Oumuamua."

Instead, Loeb thinks a better approach would be to wait until astronomers observe another mysterious 'Oumuamua-like object in the solar system and travel to that. That's the goal of the Galileo Project, which he leads.

"The goal is to take a close-up photograph that would reveal whether it is an unusual rock or extraterrestrial equipment, because a picture is worth a thousand words," he said.

Any such mission will be costly, however, potentially costing a billion dollars. "In other words, 'To rendezvous or not to rendezvous?' is a billion-dollar question," Loeb wrote in December last year.