That Comet Isn't An Alien Probe, Sorry Everybody

The assertion that the interstellar comet that passed Earth might be an alien probe is just science fiction. Specifically, the plot of 'Star Trek IV.'
That Comet Isn't An Alien Probe, Sorry Everybody

On October 19, 2017, an astronomical wonder occurred in the Solar System. For the first time in recorded space history, we were being visited by an interstellar piece of rock. The object baffled scientists, as both the comet's shape and speed were unusual. But now, a Harvard paper has provided a possible explanation for these mysteries, and it's the only one the media ever wanted hear: "Maybe it was aliens?"

That Comet Isn't An Alien Probe, Sorry Everybody
ESO/M. Kornmesser
"Superman has returned, and he's now just a great big slab of random crap."

This week, a draft of an upcoming paper from Harvard professors Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb was made public, to much controversy. The study tries to figure out the interstellar comet's peculiar speed, with one of their theories being that it could have been an alien probe. The object, known as 'Oumuamua, baffled trajectory projections by somehow accelerating while leaving our system. But while the bulk of the paper is simply an in-depth revisiting and confirming of the existing theory that the comet's weird shape allowed it to be propelled by solar radiation pressure (that's also how the concept of a light sail spacecraft would work), the researchers end it by offering a more "exotic scenario" -- the one wherein little grey aliens sailed by us on a spacefaring mineral dick or something.

Of course, that bit of sci-fi daydreaming isn't the point of the paper, but it's the part everyone started talking about. Plenty of headlines have popped up pretending that the boys from Harvard are seriously saying that Will Smith should get his fighter pilot's license just to be safe. Meanwhile, many responsible/boring scientist have taken to the internet decrying the paper's sensationalizing of 'Oumuamua, with astronomer Coryn Bailer-Jones noting "We must ask ourselves, 'Where is the evidence?,' not 'Where is the lack of evidence so that I can fit in any hypothesis that I like?'" Because surely, there's no good reason for scientists to ever want to be the first to formally posit an idea that also happens to get them massive media coverage, right?

But Bailey and Loeb were on the right track, though they made one crucial mistake. The probe wasn't here to observe us, it was here to observe our humpback whales. Duh. As seen in the time-travelling documentary Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (titled in underwater theaters as Whale Trek: First Contact), a very similar cigar-shaped alien probe arrived near Earth in 2286 to establish communication with Earth's whales, who are only two more U.S. elections away from being considered the most intelligent species by process of elimination.

That Comet Isn't An Alien Probe, Sorry Everybody
Paramount Pictures
"Take us to your leader. No, the other kind of blowhole."

The problem is that by 2286, humpback whales will be extinct, leaving the call unanswered and the probe to angrily pace around Earth like a worried parent after curfew. In order to get the star-crossed soulmates in touch, Captain Kirk and the gang travel back to the 1980s to stock up on hairspray and humpback whales and get back in time to set up this intergalactic Skype call. Obviously, the only thing Star Trek IV got wrong with the date, with the probe arriving 268 years ahead of schedule.

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