Celestial object ‘not an alien spacecraft’, say Irish scientists

Queens University Belfast research findings set to disappoint star-gazers looking for ET

For almost two months, scientists wondered were they on the verge of the greatest discovery in human history.

A strange-looking object shaped like a cigar wandered into our solar system and passed close enough to the Earth to be observed by ground telescopes.

Its trajectory meant it was not subject to the sun’s gravitational pull and must have originated from elsewhere in the galaxy.

Was this evidence at last of extra-terrestrial intelligence? Was it proof that we were indeed not alone in the universe?


The object was named Oumuamua, as it was first discovered by telescopes in Hawaii. The word means scout in Hawaiian.

Radio telescopes from the Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project were locked on the object looking for the faintest signal and possibility that it would be an alien craft.

Alas, scientists at Queens University Belfast have dashed any hopes it might be evidence of alien life.

Seven researchers have been observing the object since its discovery and have concluded it is a lump of rock, albeit one with unusual features.

It is covered in a dry crust which prevents its icy interior from being vaporised as it passed just 35 million kilometres away from the Sun in September.

Lead researcher Prof Alan Fitzsimmons said Oumuamua is similar to small solar system bodies that are covered in carbon-rich ice.

He added: “We have also found that a half-metre thick coating of organic-rich material could have protected a water-ice-rich comet-like interior from vaporising when the object was heated by the sun, even though it was heated to over 300 degrees centigrade.”

The team found that the object was the same colour as some of the icy minor planets they had been studying on the outskirts of our solar system.

Another researcher Dr Michele Bannister said the object was interesting even it was not evidence of alien life.

“It’s fascinating that the first interstellar object discovered looks so much like a tiny world from our own home system. This suggests that the way our planets and asteroids formed has a lot of kinship to the systems around other stars.”

She added: “We are continuing our research into Oumuamua and are hopeful that we will make more discoveries in the near future. Discoveries like this really help to give a little more insight into what’s out there and encourages people to look up and wonder.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times