Science

Oumuamua: Mysterious interstellar object probed for signs of alien life

Oumuamua: Mysterious interstellar object probed for signs of alien life”

The giant dish - the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world - will "listen" to Oumuamua across four radio frequency bands spanning one to 12 gigahertz from 8pm United Kingdom time on Wednesday.

These odd features have raised the adrenaline level among the planet's SETI community, spurring Breakthrough Listen founder Yuri Milner to initiate an active probe for interstellar radio transmissions from other cosmic civilizations.

The telescope will begin observing the object tomorrow (Dec. 13) at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) across four radio bands, from 1 to 12 GHz, and will observe over a total of 10 hours for its first phase, broken up into four segments based on the object's rotation. "Whether this object turns out to be artificial or natural, it's a great target for Listen".

"With our equipment at Green Bank, we can detect a signal the strength of a mobile phone coming out of this object", Milner said, Scientific American reported.

"'Oumuamua's presence within our solar system affords Breakthrough Listen an opportunity to reach unprecedented sensitivities to possible artificial transmitters and demonstrate our ability to track nearby, fast-moving objects", said Listen's Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center.

'Oumuamua was discovered by the Pan-STARRS project at the University of Hawaii in October 2017, passing Earth at about 85 times the distance to the Moon - a stone's throw, in astronomical terms.

Scientists have been intrigued by the reddish, elongated object because of its long and thin shape, which is unlike the asteroids and comets researchers have seen that are native to the solar system. Early observations of Oumuamua show that it is about 400 m long but only one tenth as wide.

Could the interstellar asteroid "Oumuamua" be an alien spaceship? 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. "Most likely, this is just a large rock, but it is worth checking for any radio signal to be sure". But a number of things have led scientists engaged in the search for alien life to wonder whether it might actually be an "artifact" from an alien civilisation.

The GBT observations of 'Oumuamua, which is Hawaiian for "scout", will be valuable to astronomers even if the object turns out to be nothing more than an asteroid.

"Even if most [interstellar objects] are natural, there still could be one out of a million that is special, Loeb said".

If, as expected, the telescope fails to pick up any intelligent broadcasts from 'Oumuamua, the observations are still expected to aid scientists in understanding the body.

Breakthrough Listen aims to survey a million nearby stars and 100 nearby galaxies looking for alien signals.



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