Science

Astronomers Are Studying Oumuamua For Alien Signals

Astronomers discovered “Oumuamua,” a cigar-shaped object which originates from interstellar space, on Oct. 18. Originally, scientists thought that the object was a comet, although they later identified it as an asteroid. Oumuamua means “scout” in Hawaiian and measures 750-by-115-foot long. The asteroid has recently moved around the sun. However, it is moving too fast to get grabbed by our star’s gravity. According to its hyperbolic movement through space, astronomers believe that it could be the first-ever detected interstellar object, and now they are studying Oumuamua for alien signals.

studying Oumuamua
Image credit: European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser – NASA

Breakthrough Listen is a non-profit research organization which is studying Oumuamua for the possibility of detecting radio or some other wireless signal in its search for aliens, although no one really expects that any sign of alien life will be found on the cigar-shaped asteroid.

“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,” Andrew Siemon, Director of Berkley SETI Research Center and a Breakthrough Listen member, said in a press release. “Whether this object turns out to be artificial or natural, it’s a great target for [Breakthrough] Listen.”

With more observations via a telescope, astronomers saw that the asteroid has a rather unusual long shape, with a dense metal-rich rock. They describe it as an asteroid with a dark-red color which it obtained thanks to being exposed to cosmic rays for billions of years which corroded organic molecules over the asteroid’s surface. It travels through the solar systems at faster than 16 miles per second, and rather tumbles than rotates smoothly through space.

Breakthrough Listen used the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to observe Oumuamua on Wednesday. The device is capable of listening in on radio waves, meaning that researchers didn’t need to observe it during the night. During the first series of observations, the researchers aimed the telescope at Oumuamua and listened to wireless radio channels for two hours.

“So far, no signal was detected,” Avi Loeb who is a physicist at Harvard University and a member of Breakthrough Listen’s leadership, revealed to Business Insider on Thursday.

Still, supercomputers are still processing the data from the telescope in order to eliminate signals from the Earth. Additionally, the observations covered just one side of the asteroid, which means that the team plans to continue studying Oumuamua for alien signals before the cigar-shaped asteroid leaves our solar system.

“During follow-up observations the coming week, we will do 3 more passes with each receiver to cover other phases of Oumuamua’s[sic] rotation,” Siemon wrote in an email that Loeb forwarded to Business Insider.

Could this cigar-shaped object hide the signs of alien life? Scientists will continue studying Oumuamua for alien signals and the results will show one way or the other.