The stories about the alien spaceship weren’t especially good, as stories. It was hard to be persuaded that ’Oumuamua—that anomalously long and thin interstellar object that sped through our solar system last year—might have been a space probe, or an abandoned solar sail, set loose by an alien civilization. The best an outlet like CNN could do was appeal to the authority of “astronomers from Harvard University,” who had spun up the alien-probe theory off the observation that ’Oumuamua, whatever it was, had accelerated more on its way past the sun than the sun’s gravity alone could account for.
CNN quoted the paper:
“Light-sails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative. The light-sail technology might be abundantly used for transportation of cargos between planets or between stars.”
What makes the argument exciting is that there is zero chance it’s right. If ’Oumuamua were (is?) an alien interstellar spacecraft, it would be beyond absurd to expect any of its technology to be analogically comparable to whatever junk we ground-bound and rapidly suffocating apes have so far been able to chuck into space. Imagine dangling an iPhone down a wormhole 75 years into the past and then yanking it back, so that people could argue about whether what they just saw was more likely to be a cigarette case or a hand mirror. Multiply that by unimaginable time and distance. We have no idea what ’Oumuamua is. Even if it’s a random space rock, our paltry existing knowledge of space rocks is completely inadequate to grasp the possibilities. We are much too small for our universe.