Is “home” finally returning ET’s call? That’s what researchers at the Breakthrough Listen initiative, the largest scientific research program aimed at finding evidence of civilizations beyond Earth, are hoping to find out.
Scientists of the program have been pointing a powerful radio telescope at ‘Oumuamua – a bizarrely shaped asteroid which has been spearing through our Solar System at super high speeds – hoping to detect something, just something, that may indicate its extra-terrestrial origin.
‘Oumuamua’s Unusual Shape Getting Astronomers’ Hopes Up
‘Oumuamua is said to be 800 meters long, 80 meters wide, and shaped much like a cigar. Its unusual needle-like form has got astronomers in a tizzy, as they ponder the unlikelihood of such a strange shape being of natural provenance. It appears to have been carefully chiseled for space travel.
According to a statement from Breakthrough Listen, “Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape [like ‘Oumuamua exhibits] is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft.”
Even Breakthrough Listen admits that the asteroid is more likely to be of natural origin; however, the organization is still “well positioned to explore the possibility that ‘Oumuamua could be an artifact.” On this basis, they decided to point the world’s largest manoeuvrable radio telescope, located in Green Bank, West Virginia at the asteroid, in the hopes of receiving some sort of anomalous feedback.
More About ‘Oumuamua: a Very Peculiar Rock
According to Scientific American, ‘Oumuamua means “first messenger” in Hawaiian. The asteroid was first detected in October, by astronomers involved in the Pan-STARRS project at the University of Hawaii. Scientists believe it could have been ejected from another star, and most likely entered the solar system in early September. The asteroid is solid, reddish-pink in color, and spins every seven hours and twenty minutes.
If it has just struck you that a rock hard cosmic bullet is hurtling through our Solar System at speeds so significant that the Sun’s gravitational pull is unable to rein it in, and the asteroid is potentially heading towards Earth, there is no need to reach for the paper bag and begin the hyperventilation procedure. ‘Oumuamua has already passed Earth. During its closest approach to Earth, the bullet-like object passed by at about 85 times the distance from Earth to the moon.
Further investigations have also revealed that ‘Oumuamua is coated in a rather unusual layer of organic insulation, adding yet another item to this celestial interloper’s long list of peculiarities.
It seems the discovery of this organic layer has brought a level of comfort to researchers. “In the end this was a nice result because we’ve expected all along that the majority of objects that would visit our solar system would be icy in nature,” said Alan Fitzsimmons, lead author of one of two major new studies into ‘Oumuamua, when speaking with the Independent. It is not certain at this point what the implications of this outer organic layer are.
Initial Data Shows No Signs of Alien Life
After analyzing the first results of the Green Bank telescope, scientists say there is no evidence of artificial signals emanating from ‘Oumuamua. At present, it appears as though ‘Oumuamua is just an elongated space rock.
However, don’t be consumed with disappointment and assume the fetal position in the corner just yet. There is a lot more data to sift through. Avi Loeb, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University says that sifting through all the data will take time, and the process could be likened to a fishing expedition. “We are most likely not to find anything, but it is worth checking steadily our fishing hooks. We will keep searching for artificial signals from ‘Oumuamua or any other interstellar object that will be discovered in the future,” he said.
Of course, this is not the first time humans have been tenaciously expending themselves in trying to find signs of extra-terrestrial life. In an article published by the New York Times, of the $600 billion dollar annual US defense budget, $22 million dollars was spent on the so-called ‘Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program’, a program designated to the investigation of UFOs and UFO sightings. While the US Department of Defense has admitted that such a program did exist, they also claim that it was discontinued in 2012. However, it is believed that while the funding for the program was indeed cut, it still remains in existence.