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interstellar body

Scientists are probing this strange oblong for alien life

The unusual interstellar body floating through space, known as ’Oumuamua, will be tested for radio signals

In October, scientists discovered an interstellar object that had entered our solar system. Now they’re using one of the world’s largest telescopes and radio to probe the mysterious body for alien life and technology. 

The object itself is long and thin – like a large extraterrestrial doobie, or a horizontal version of the spacecrafts in Arrival. It’s travelling, at its peak, at about 196,000 miles per hour. It’s the first of its kind in our solar system. Early research estimates it is around 400m long.

The Breakthrough Listen project, an initiative that searches for alien life, will probe the object using the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia. Using radio signals, they’ll observe four radio transmission bands across 10 hours.

Researchers using the Pan-Sarrs telescope in Hawaii first saw the object travel past the earth. It has been named ‘Oumuamua, the Hawaiian word for ‘messenger’.

More recent work found it to be about twice as far from the Earth as the sun. It also looks to be dark red, in the same way comets and asteroids are.

Avi Loeb, a professor of astronomy at Harvard and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project told the Guardian: “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. If we do detect a signal that appears artificial in origin, we’ll know immediately.” 

Its unusual shape initially ruled out the idea ‘Oumuamua is a comet, but many researchers believe that it’s an interstellar asteroid, though totally unlike any from belts in our own galaxy. 

“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?” Loeb added.

Listening will begin from Wednesday December 13, 3pm ET. 

In the last year alone there’s been plenty of discussion surrounding alien civilisations. The Kepler Space telescope spotted a distant star, KIC 8462852, which had very strange qualities, such as dimming of light across its structure. This has seen experts propose another advanced society exists there. Back in August, Nasa posted a job listing for a ‘planetary protection officer’: someone who would help to defend the Earth from alien bacteria. The space agency also discovered 219 new planets near the Cygnus constellation in our Milky Way galaxy, 10 of which could be potential candidates for human life to migrate to.