The interstellar object ‘Oumuamua could be a “light-sail” created by an alien civilization. That is the highly speculative conclusion of Shmuel Bialy and Avi Loeb of Harvard University, who say that the unexplained trajectory of the object as it travelled through the solar system could be the result of it being accelerated by sunlight.

In a statement about the research, Loeb says that it is “unclear whether ‘Oumuamua might be a defunct technological debris of equipment that is not operational any more or whether it is functional”. Bialy and Loeb believe the object could be a light-sail, which would have used the radiation pressure of starlight – or perhaps even light from a giant laser – to reach the solar system. Japan’s IKAROS mission, which launched in 2010, has already used a light-sail to accelerate a spacecraft using sunlight.

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