In the 1960 Twilight Zone episode “Third From the Sun,” two families attempt to escape their planet ahead of an imminent nuclear war. They accomplish their goal. As they travel away from home, William Sturka, the leader of the group and a scientist whose job it had been to mass-produce H-bombs, comments that he can’t believe there’s a whole other planet out there filled with people just like them. “Eleven million miles away — the third planet from the Sun, called ‘Earth.’”
Oh my God. They were going to (Cold War–era) Earth! Rod Serling’s closing narration comes in: “Behind a tiny ship heading into space is a doomed planet on the verge of suicide. Ahead lies a place called Earth, the third planet from the Sun.” Yikes! I can’t help but recall this parable of man’s inherent indecency in light of the news that this blog post will focus on as soon as I am finished recapping a Twilight Zone episode at length, which is right now.
According to a new paper published from Harvard scientists, a cigar-shaped space object dubbed “Oumuamua” may be, oh my, “a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.”
Women gasping again!
Oumuamua, a Hawaiian word that means “scout” or “messenger,” was first spotted in 2017, and was thought to be the first-ever interstellar object to enter our solar system. Here’s that same thing said more confidently, from a study published in Nature at the time of the object’s discovery:
“The orbit calculations revealed beyond any doubt that this body did not originate from inside the solar system, like all other asteroids or comets ever observed, but instead had come from interstellar space.”
Its unusual speed was also curious. The new paper from the Harvard guys that I mentioned earlier (published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters) posits that the object could be a solar sail, which would explain its speed, and which is a thing I will have Popular Mechanics explain to you:
“Einstein’s theory of relativity showed that light has momentum, which means satellites could use a sail to capture that momentum in much the same way as a sailboat’s sail captures the wind. Some scientists have even proposed using a solar sail to send a lightweight probe to another star.”
Okay. The Harvard guys’ paper, co-authored by Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department, and Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, says the solar sail possibility is, ah, possible, but Oumuamua would have to be remarkably thin to function this way, and the object was moving too fast to figure out whether or not it was, in fact, thin enough.
But if it does function as a solar sail, another possibility arises: that it was manufactured to function as such. By aliens! OH my god. (“A more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua’ may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” is what I quoted from the paper earlier, but I will quote it again now for effect.)
NBC News reached out to senior astronomer Seth Shostak, of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who put a minor damper on 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,” he said. Yess, yess … ?:
“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.”
Okay, well, anyway, if any aliens are reading this on their solar sail, en route to a new planet full of similar life-forms (in the updated Twilight Zone I have to imagine the non-Earthlings would be escaping devastating climate change on their home planet), please note that Earth is also a doomed planet on the verge of suicide. Maybe try another!