This week, scientists are preparing to study a mysterious cigar-shaped object, the first known interstellar object to pass through our solar system.
Scientists will listen to the object for radio transmissions for the first time using the Green Bank telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, in West Virginia on December 13.
Radio Sputnik discussed the first stage of observation of this bizarre interstellar body with Avi Loeb, a professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project, the largest scientific research program searching for life beyond Earth. Breakthrough Listen was founded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner.
“It was the first object discovered from interstellar space. It looks like its brightness changes by a factor of 10 as it rotates and reflects sunlight, and that implies that it is wide, and so it is a very elongated object that we have never seen before in the solar system. This very first object coming from interstellar space appears to have formed under very unusual circumstances,” Loeb explained.
The object — named Oumuamua, after the Hawaiian word for “messenger” — was first noticed in October by Robert Weryk, who was using the Pan-STARRS telescope at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.
“What we would like to find out is whether [Oumuamua] was artificially made by some alien civilization. It is not that we believe that is likely to be the case. It is probably a rock coming to us from a very distant system. However, we should still check,” Loeb explained.
Milner recently told the Scientific American that although he doesn’t want to be sensational, there is a realistic chance that the object could be artificial.
“Because this is a unique situation, we think mankind can afford 10 hours of observing time using the best equipment on the planet to check a low-probability hypothesis,” Milner recently told Scientific American.
According to Loeb, the astronomers have installed detectors at the Green Bank telescope to search for electromagnetic activity in space. If an electronic device as powerful as a WiFi router or a telephone handset is transmitting on Oumuamua, the telescope will be able to detect those radio transmissions.
“Green Bank is the most capable radio telescope in the world for conducting these types of observations,” Siemion, director of the Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center, told The Washington Post on Monday.