NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A pair of Harvard scientists say a massive, fast-moving visitor to our solar system may have been a probe sent by an alien civilization.
Tumbling through outer space, the half-mile long mystery object named Oumuamua - Hawaiian for "messenger" or "scout" – was discovered last year moving past the sun at 196,000 miles per hour.
Rumors and speculation have taken on a life of their own online.
"I heard that it's a probe and a couple of Harvard scientists think it's from aliens," said Rebecca Sunde from the Upper West Side.
Indeed, that part is true.
"It looks very different from objects that we have found in the solar system," said Avi Loeb, chair of the Harvard University astronomy department. Loeb said Oumuamua did not behave like an ordinary asteroid or give off gas like a comet.
Loeb says somehow, passing through our stellar neighborhood, the object picked up speed. But how?
"There seemed to be an extra force that is pushing it, and it's not clear what this push is from," he added.
In an upcoming paper, he and a colleague offer what they call a "more exotic scenario, Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to earth vicinity by an alien civilization."
"I think it's exciting to consider all of the possibilities," said Sunde.
New Yorkers have said everything from "there's something out there" to "it's absolutely true – we're being invaded."
American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist Jackie Faherty says discovery of the "alien rock" back in October of 2017 caused the entire astronomical community to lose their minds a little bit.
"This object very likely and very excitingly came from a totally different solar system," said Faherty.
But what are the chances it is an alien probe?
"I don't know. Real low. Real low. Real, real low," Faherty said.
"Oumuamua, as it stands, is a phenomenal discovery and a really important object for astronomers to study and for the public to get excited about," Faherty said. "It's OK that it's not aliens."
Oumuamua is now so far away we can no longer see it with our satellites. Faherty did have a theory on why we keep coming up with these exotic explanations: As hard as it is to fathom the existence of aliens, it's apparently even harder to fathom the idea that we're alone.
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