The interstellar asteroid Oumuamua, first seen in October, will be studied for signs of alien technology by Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million venture funded by a Silicon Valley billionaire from Russia.
Breakthrough Listen will use the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia to observe radio frequencies surrounding the asteroid for 10 hours, HuffPost reported.
Scientists agree that the chances of alien technology on Oumuamua are slim, but think it’s worthwhile to test for it anyway while the asteroid remains in range.
Scientists on the Breakthrough Listen project, which searches for evidence of alien civilisations, said the Green Bank telescope would monitor the object, named ‘Oumuamua, from Wednesday. The first phase of observations is expected to last 10 hours and will tune in to four different radio transmission bands.
“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,” said Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project. “If we do detect a signal that appears artificial in origin, we’ll know immediately.”
“We don’t want to be sensational in any way, and we are very realistic about the chances this is very artificial,” Project Listen funder and billionaire Yuri Milner told Scientific American. “But 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.”
The asteroid — the first known object from outside the Milky Way — is shaped like a cigar and was determined not to be a comet because it does not have a tail and is reddish in color. NASA said the asteroid likely came from the constellation of Lyra and is traveling 59,000 miles per hour.
Oumuamua is expected to pass Jupiter next year and Saturn in 2019 before hurtling toward the constellation Pegasus, HuffPost reported.
In the unlikely event the program does detect radio transmissions coming from Oumuama, the team said it would make its findings public and seek help to further study the asteroid before it gets too far away to be observed, Scientific American reported.
“There’s no way to keep something like this a secret, because it requires us calling everyone we can. We tend not to ‘cry wolf’ about these things,” Breakthrough Listen lead scientist Andrew Siemion said, Scientific American reported.
Twitter users speculated about Oumuamua and its alien possibilities.