Telescopes turned toward interstellar asteroid detect no radio signals

Object is an unusual asteroid but not a messenger from an alien civilization.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Dec 17, 2017
Telescopes aimed at 'Oumuamua, the interstellar asteroid traveling through our solar system, detected no radio signals coming from the object after turning to it on Wednesday, December 13.

The effort was initiated by Breakthrough Listen, a project aimed at listening for signals that could be coming from alien civilizations.

Discovered two months ago by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) project at the University of Hawaii and subsequently named 'Oumuamua, the asteroid has a shape like none seen in the solar system.

Elongated, with a cigar-like shape, 'Oumuamua is estimated to be 1,300 feet (400 meters) long but just 131 feet (40 meters) wide. It is the first known interstellar visitor to our solar system and could have been traveling as long as billions of years.

None of the approximately 750,000 known asteroids and comets in the solar system are believed to have interstellar origins.

'Oumuamua's distant origin inspired its name, which in Hawaiian means scout or messenger.

Speeding through the solar system at 23.8 miles (38.3 km) per second relative to the Sun, 'Oumuamua crossed the orbit of Mars in November and is now approximately 125 million miles (200 million km) from Earth.

It will cross the orbit of Jupiter in May 2018 and the orbit of Saturn in January 2019, then exit the solar system entirely.

'Oumuamua's unusual shape and strange trajectory led some scientists to consider that, however improbable, it could be a robotic or satellite spacecraft from an intelligent alien civilization, motivating Breakthrough Listen to aim a network of telescopes at the object in the hope of picking up artificial radio signals.

Yesterday, project officials announced, "No such signals have been detected" although data from the observation is still being analyzed.

Project scientists observed the asteroid in portions of the radio spectrum in which it was never previously studied, with a secondary goal of identifying the chemistry of a possible coma as well as determining whether it contains water ice.

"'Oumuamua is most likely an asteroid, ejected from its host star in some chaotic event billions of years ago, and finding its way to our solar system by chance," said Andrew Siemion of the University of California at Berkeley, who heads Breakthrough Listen's laboratory.

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