A MYSTERIOUS object shooting through the solar system forced scientists to whip out one of the world’s largest telescopes to clarify whether life does exist in our solar system.
The space rock was first spotted by astronomers in Hawaii in October 2017 and since then they’ve been trying to determine whether it’s an alien spaceship. Here’s what we know about it.
What is Oumuamua and where did it come from?
Oumuamua, named after the Hawaiian term which means “a messenger from afar arriving first” is the first visitor to our solar system that has come from somewhere else in our galaxy.
The cigar-shaped space rock is said to have first soared past Earth in November 2017.
The 400m long rock has intrigued scientists because it is only a tenth as wide.
Even its needle shape is peculiar. Asteroids which typically soar through our solar system are round.
Travelling at 44 kilometres per second (27 miles per second), the comet is currently headed away from the Earth and Sun on its way out of the solar system[/caption]
Comets usually follow an ellipse-shaped orbit around the sun. But Oumuamua appears to orbit at an angle.
Its path suggests it entered our solar system from the direction of the constellation Lyra.
Oumuamua is said to have first entered our solar system on September 2 2017, speeding at 27 miles per second.
The rock then made its closest approach to the sun, seven days later, before suddenly spinning 15 million miles under Earth’s orbit on October 14 2017.
Scientists became even more fascinated with the pale pink space rock because of its movement.
Oumuamua “tumbles” smoothly through our solar system, instead of simply moving like other asteroids.
Although there was initially a non “consensus” on its origins, researchers are slowly starting to crack the code of its whereabouts.
New research shows that Oumuamua “very likely” came from a binary star system, which (unlike our Sun) is one with two stars orbiting a common centre.
These are as likely to eject rocky objects, such as asteroids, as they are icy lumps, according to the new study published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Oumuamua is thought to have originated from a system with a relatively hot, high-mass star, because these conditions are more likely to produce rocky objects.
The scientists suggest that the asteroid is very likely to have been ejected from its binary system sometime during the formation of planets.
How will scientists ‘listen’ to it?
Before his death, Stephen Hawking was leading Breakthrough Listen, a team of scientists tasked with following the asteroid using the world’s largest directable radio telescope.
On December 14 2017 at 8pm GMT, the team pointed the Green Bank Telescope at the object, scanning it for ten hours for signs of alien technology.
Initially, however, they didn’t spot any such activity.
“No such signals have been detected, although the analysis is not yet complete”, the organisation wrote.
But there is still plenty more data to be gathered, with four blocks of scans planned in total.
The scientists are to listening in to the rock at various radio bands, to establish if any radio signals are being sent by it.
The signals they are listening out for are about the same strength as those emitted from a mobile phone.
The Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, US, which is going to track Oumuamua[/caption]
Could the asteroid be an alien spaceship?
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Professor Stephen Hawking previously said: “Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft, since this would minimise friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust.”
If the team of scientists do hear the signals, it would be proof that extraterrestrial forces are really at play.
But if a radio signal does come back, scientists will need to proceed with caution.
Harvard researchers have now said it “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilisation”.
In a letter published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on November 12 2017, the researchers add that Oumuamua could be a spacecraft pushed along by light falling on its surface.
Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department and co-author of the paper, told NBC News: “It is impossible to guess the purpose behind Oumuamua without more data.”
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