An alien civilisation sent a spaceship to investigate Earth and we mistook it for an asteroid, astronomers from one of the world’s top universities have suggested.

Two Harvard stargazers have published a paper which seeks to explain why Asteroid ‘Oumuamua, a cigar-shaped object which sped through the solar system last year, accelerated and changed direction as it shot past humanity’s home planet.

Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics suggested the elongated asteroid might have an ‘artificial origin’.

‘‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilisation,’ they wrote.

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Could this be an alien space probe? Asteroid ‘Oumuamua is still provoking debate about its origins (Picture Getty)

Their research suggests several explanations for the formation of ‘Oumuamua, which is regarded as a ‘new class’ of space object.

It sped past Earth and looped around our sun at 196,000 mph and was about half a mile long. The object was so unusual that Nasa said it had ‘never seen a natural object with such extreme proportions in the solar system before’.

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Initially, the fact ‘Oumuamua appeared to speed up led astronomers to suggest it was a comet. These icy objects accelerate due a process called outgassing, in which the sun heats up a comet and causes it to release gases.

But in their paper, the Harvard stargazers ruled out the possibility it was an active comet.

They proposed that it was powered along by ‘solar radiation pressure’ produced by the sun, but went on to make more ‘exotic’ suggestions to explain its acceleration.

This Nasa graphic shows the distinctive tumbling motion of ‘Oumuamua

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The pair suggested it may have been a type of spaceship called a ‘light sail’ featuring a large and very thin sheet that is blown along through space by the light produced by stars.

When it travelled through the solar system, it was tumbling end-over-end, which could also mean it was a piece of space wreckage left behind by aliens.

‘Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,’ the astronomers continued.

‘Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative

‘The lightsail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars.’

They said alien civilisations may jettison used cargo ships, resulting in space debris that looks a lot like Asteroid ‘Oumuamua.

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