Scientists are seeking to confirm or disprove speculation that ‘Oumuamua, the first known interstellar asteroid to enter the solar system, could be a space probe from an extraterrestrial civilization.
Artist's impression of 'Oumuamua [Image by ESO/M. Kornmesser]
By now, you may have guessed that there’s no groundbreaking news about ‘Oumuamua, our peculiar, cigar-shaped visitor from interstellar space. After all, if scientists did indeed find out that the asteroid was actually a space probe sent by extraterrestrial intelligence, things would not be as quiet on the alien hunt front as they are now. Scientists report that initial scans have not revealed any indications that ‘Oumuamua is anything other than a weirdly-shaped space rock.
Astronomers had noticed several strange things about ‘Oumuamua that may be evidence of the space rock’s origins as a spacecraft built by an alien civilization. Its elongated shape, for instance, was reminiscent of space probe designs that Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb has been working on. ‘Oumuamua also seemed to have quite literally dropped into our solar system from outer space, and it also didn’t have the characteristic tail that asteroids typically possess.
Is 'Oumuamua, our first known interstellar visitor, a space probe or a space rock? [Image by NASA/ESA/Giotto Project]
Scientists thought that if ‘Oumuamua were indeed some sort of space probe, it should be sending out radio signals or radio waves. The Breakthrough Listen project has been dedicated to analyzing the asteroid and keeping an ear and eye out for any signs that the asteroid may be transmitting signals. The project has also been able to book time with the Green Bank Telescope, a powerful instrument that allows scientists to steer it to focus at anything in the sky.
So far, however, Breakthrough Listen’s network of telescopes have not found what they were looking for. “No such signals have been detected,” said the project.
Green Bank Telescope, the powerful tool listening for radio waves coming from 'Oumuamua.
Then again, these are the results of just the first round of observations. This first round of four observations analyzed frequencies ranging from 1 to 12 GHz. So far, scientists have not found possible alien signals in the 1.7 GHz to 2.6 GHz range, though the data with the rest of the frequencies are still in process.
According to Andrew Siemion, Berkeley Seti Research Center director, says that data from all four bands turned up nothing. ‘Oumuamua, according to the researchers, wasn’t continuously emitting anything.
There’s a second set of observations, but researchers better work fast. ‘Oumuamua gathered speed as it moved toward the sun, and it will soon be out of our solar system for good.
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