In November a bizarrely-shaped asteroid zipped past the Earth. Given its elongated structure the space rock would've been strange enough. It's received more attention from scientists than any other object, however, because its weirdness goes beyond looking like a giant alien blunt.
The object has been given a very science fiction-friendly, mysterious-sounding name: Oumuamua. That's a Hawaiian word which means "scout." Penn State astronomy and astrophysics professor Dr. Jason Wright doesn't necessarily believe the object is alien in origin, but in a blog post written at the end of November, he acknowledged it isn't crazy to wonder if it really is, after all, a kind of scout.
Wright listed reasons he says astronomers are "talking 'spaceship'":
* Its discovery closely tracks the opening chapter of the book Rendezvous with Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke, about the discovery of an interstellar spaceship on a similar trajectory to ‘Oumuamua.
* We were expecting the first discovered interstellar rocks (we know they must be out there) to be comets, since our own Solar System’s Oort cloud (populated by nearly-ejected Solar System detritus) is mostly comets. The fact that it is not a comet has people scratching their heads.
* One of the recent measurements of its shape finds it to have a 10:1 axis ratio: this is not typical of asteroids, but is not uncommon for ships in science fiction (the 2001 monolith was 1:4:9)
* One of the recent measurements of its color has it very red, similar to metallic asteroids
In other words, a sober scientist like Dr. Wright is skeptical by training and nature, but he has to admit there is some weirdness going on here.
Stephen Hawking wouldn't be involved if talk of an alien ship was b.s.—and he is.
The Daily Mail reports Hawking and associates are "scanning" Oumuamua for signs that it could be from an advanced civilization, prompted by its quarter-mile length and thinness, in part because "Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft."
The Mail reports at least one other intriguing detail suggests there's something weird about Oumuamua: It is moving "very 'cleanly'" through space "without emitting the usual cloud of space dust that astronomers observe around asteroids."
If the asteroid is a probe, it will be the news story of the millennia. It will also bring up the question as to whether it's from an innately friendly or hostile civilization.
As Harvard Astronomy professor Avi Loeb told the Mail, an alien society could "risk our existence, so we should deliberate carefully in any future contact with them. "
So—we don't even know if it's an alien object at all, but if it is, we better hope it's a lot more E.T. the Extraterrestrial than Predator.