Everyone’s favourite asteroid 'Oumuamua is once again making headlines. Nearly two months after its discovery, the asteroid is still spurring heaps of interesting conversations and provoking many questions. The most recent question: is 'Oumuamua (formerly 1I / 2017 U1) really an asteroid or a piece of extraterrestrial technology?
It was just this past October that we on Earth got to know the asteroid when it passed by 24 million kilometres away. Astronomers were gobsmacked by its unusual hyperbolic orbit, suggesting its origins are not from our solar system. Shortly after, scientists were able to confirm its distant origins and that’s when ‘Oumuamua started revealing even more of its secrets.
We know today that our foreign friend measures 400 metres (1310 feet) in length at 10 times smaller in height, giving it a cigar-like shape. “It’s a strange visitor from a faraway star system, shaped like nothing we’ve ever seen in our own solar system neighbourhood,” said Paul Chodas of the NASA Center for Near-Earth Object Studies.
However, this bizarre revelation did not fail to spark the imagination of many, particularly science fiction fans, who believe that ‘Oumuamua seems to resemble an alien vessel. Today, scientists have decided to further provoke conversation through the launch of a new visitor study campaign.
In search of alien signals
The initiative is part of the Breakthrough Listen project, which aims to find evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations. Scientists are planning to make use of the telescope at the famous Green Bank Observatory in the United States to monitor ‘Oumuamua’s path. Currently, the asteroid is located twice as far as the Earth is from the Sun, more than 300 million kilometres (186 million miles) away from us.
“Most likely it is of natural origin, but because it is so peculiar, we would like to check if it has any sign of artificial origin, such as radio emissions,” stated Avi Loeb, adviser for the Breakthrough Listen project and professor of astronomy at Harvard University.
The first phase of observations began on December 13th and lasted a total of 6 hours, while gathering a total of 60 terabytes of data. As of now, there are no such signs of life located on ‘Oumuamua.
Uncovering the asteroid’s secrets
Even if this project yields no results that show evidence of foreign life, the scientific community will not lose interest in the asteroid. The bizarre shape alone is enough to intrigue scientists, as nothing of the kind has yet been observed in our solar system.
“It’s curious that the first object we see from outside the solar system looks like that,” admitted Avi Loeb. “Even if we find an artefact that was left over and there are no signs of life on it, that would be the greatest thrill I can imagine having in my lifetime. It’s really one of the fundamental questions in science, perhaps the most fundamental: are we alone?” Safe to say ‘Oumuamua will be a much discussed topic for quite some time to come.