A cigar-shaped hunk of rock and metal about half a mile long is soaring through the solar system, causing confusion as it flies. By all accounts, Oumuamua is a weird object: It’s super fast, it’s shaped like a space turd, and nobody is sure where it came from. It was only a matter of time before someone suggested it might have been sent by aliens. It’s just a bit surprising that Harvard researchers were the ones to do so.

In a preprint paper published November 1 on arXiv, Harvard Institute for Theory and Computation researchers Shmuel Bialy, Ph.D., and Professor Abraham Loeb, Ph.D., give an explanation for Oumuamua’s recent uptick in speed, which scientists had previously pointed out could not be due to gravity alone. The video below illustrates the object’s sharp acceleration. In their paper, Bialy and Loeb describe the possibility of solar radiation pressure — the idea that photons from the sun might have pushed Oumuamua along — but sneak in a far more creative idea at the end:

Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.

Describing one theory, that there should be more Oumuamua-like objects in space than we have perceived, they continue:

This discrepancy is readily solved if ‘Oumuamua does not follow a random trajectory but is rather a targeted probe.

These are all just hypotheses, of course, and Bialy and Loeb admit that the only way the origin and mechanical properties of Oumuamua and other objects like it can be “deciphered” is to search for other objects like it in the future to find support.

Oumuamua is largely a mystery to us, but we are certain about a few of its characteristics, thanks to the NASA Pan-STARRS1 survey, which first detected its existence on October 19, 2017. As the NASA experts in the header video explain, Oumuamua’s speed and trajectory suggest it was flung here from a different solar system, making it our first known interstellar visitor. It’s exceptionally skinny, at roughly 40 meters (131 feet) wide, and its redness suggests it’s so old that it’s been irradiated over billions of years by many different suns. It didn’t pose any threat to Earth when it entered or when it left, but it was first detected by NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

If Bialy and Loeb want evidence for their alien theory, they’d better work fast. a