Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Is This Interstellar Asteroid an Alien Spacecraft?

This artist's impression shows'Oumuamua an interstellar asteroid.                  ESO  M. Kornmesser This artist's impression shows'Oumuamua an interstellar asteroid. ESO M. Kornmesser
Theresa Hayes | 13 December, 2017, 08:37

Scientists will try to see if they can catch any radio signals coming from this exceptional object that lately hurtled past Earth and that nearly inevitably comes from another star system.

First spotted in mid-October by Astronomers at the University of Hawaii, this asteroid is now twice the distance between the Earth and Sun, or two astronomical units. The first phase of observations is expected to last 10 hours and will tune in to four different radio transmission bands.

"While a natural origin is more likely, there is now no consensus on what that origin might have been, and Breakthrough Listen is well positioned to explore the possibility that 'Oumuamua could be an artefact".

You can't get much more mysterious than the interstellar asteroid 'Oumuamua, but is it mysterious enough to be an artificial probe designed by a spacefaring alien civilization?

A cigar-shaped interstellar asteroid named "Oumuamua" could be an alien starship, according to researchers in the Seti Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The Green Bank telescope in West Virginia is set to listen for radio signals emanating from the device on the off chance it isn't entirely natural. Named 'Oumuamua after the Hawaiian word for "messenger", it sped from interstellar space going as fast as 196,000 miles per hour (315,000 kph) as it went past the sun. Still, if there's some signal emanating from 'Oumuamua, that's probably something we should know about.

"This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own". At this distance, it would take under a minute for the Green Bank instrument to detect an omnidirectional transmitter with the power of a cellphone.

A telescope will now be trained on the object to see whether it's producing any signals - which would indicate it's alien in origin - or whether it's just a plain old asteroid on a solitary path through the heavens. Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner funded the group with $100 million.

So, best-case scenario - we find out that we are not alone in the universe, finally answering a question that has occupied humanity since we first looked to the stars as more than remote islands of light in the firmament, and began to understand their true nature. Thus, astronomers determined 'Oumuamua was actually an elongated asteroid between 30 and 180 meters in length.

Now, researchers are trying to figure out where Oumuamua came from and how it formed.

The more astronomers observe the odd asteroid, the more they can hopefully learn about it.

Previous work on the body found it to be extremely dark red, absorbing about 96% of light that falls on it. Given how unprepared we are for a regular comet or asteroid, that's not too reassuring.

And even if there's no sign of extraterrestrial broadcasts, Breakthrough Listen says its observations could provide important information about whether 'Oumuamua contains water ice, or about the composition of any gaseous envelope that surrounds the object.