When a giant piece of interstellar space junk came hurtling at the planet earth, scientists got a bit giddy. Nothing like this has (to their cumulative knowledge) ever happened before. The space rock wasn’t behaving like your typical asteroid or comet, and it was a strange shape, too. Now investigations are underway to see if this was something more than a rogue asteroid. Could it have been an interstellar space probe?
The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope is now trained on the object, looking for anything (even more) out of the ordinary.
“Back in late October, the PANSTARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii detected what was initially thought to be a comet, dubbed C/2017 U1,” IFL Science recaps. The object’s orbit meant it didn’t come from this solar system. Initial investigations showed it wasn’t a comet, but an asteroid.
“Even then many people were reminded of the early stages of the classic novel Rendezvous With Rama,” IFL writes. “In the book, the speedy object turns out to be an alien spaceship, which the crew of the one suitably positioned human spacecraft gets to explore. We lack the technology for that just yet, but are applying what we have.”
“Oumuamua, as the object is dubbed, is exceptionally elongated – indeed its 10-to-1 ratio of length to width is unprecedented for an asteroid – but would make sense for spacecraft designed to minimize friction with interstellar dust.”
Could it be a spacecraft? The odds are long.
So what if it were transmitting radio waves back to someone (or something). It is the height of ethnocentrism to assume an alien civilization would communicate like humans, but we persist. As such, The Breakthrough Listen project “has announced 10 hours of valuable time on a large radio telescope will be devoted to searching for signals at frequencies of 1-12 GigaHertz,” IFL notes.
Radio waves are an efficent way of communicating through space, though, so if Oumuamua is making some broadcasts, we would be likely to pick them up. Images are proving more elusive. Oumuamua is moving fast, and is already headed out again. In fact, it is more than twice the distance of the earth to the sun away now.
“Even in the likely event that no signs of alien activity are found,” IFL concludes optimistically, “there is always the chance of some other scientifically valuable result. After all, it’s agreed there is something unusual about this object beside its orbit, even if most aren’t willing to sign on to theories like Oumuamua being a lump of dark matter. The more frequencies at which we study it, the more likely we are to find answers, such as the possibility the Byrd telescope will detect the presence of ice we have so far missed.”