Scientists are watching an asteroid called ‘Oumuamua because they think it could be an alien ship

This is an artist's rendering of the asteroid â\u0080\u0098Oumuamua, which scientists are studying to see if it's an alien ship. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
This is an artist's rendering of the asteroid â\u0080\u0098Oumuamua, which scientists are studying to see if it's an alien ship. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Published December 13 2017
Updated December 13 2017

Scientists are studying an object that’s tumbling through our solar system to see if it’s a disabled alien spaceship.

You read that right.

Unlike other asteroids, this object — called ‘Oumuamua — is cigar-shaped and is twirling through space unlike any mankind has seen before.

"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 minimize friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust," the astronomical group Breakthrough Listen said in a news release.

According to an article in Scientific American, "That would mean it is like no asteroid ever seen before, instead resembling the collision-minimizing form favored in many designs for notional interstellar probes."

"While a natural origin is more likely, there is currently no consensus on what that origin might have been, and Breakthrough Listen is well positioned to explore the possibility that ‘Oumuamua could be an artifact," the exploration group, which is funded by billionaire Yuri Milner, said in its release.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii discovered the object in October as it passed earth at about 85 times the distance to the Moon – a stone’s throw, in astronomical terms, Breakthrough Listen said in its statement.

The name ‘Oumuamua is Hawaiian for "first messenger."

The object looped around the sun and is now halfway to Jupiter, according to Scientific American, and is getting out of reach of the most powerful telescopes.

‘Oumuamua is about is about a quarter of a mile long and 260 feet wide and has traveled at speeds of up to 196,000 mph.

"So far there are few if any wholly satisfactory explanations as to how such an extremely elongated solid object could naturally form, let alone endure the forces of a natural high-speed ejection from a star system—a process thought to involve a wrenching encounter with a giant planet," says the Scientific American article.

On Wednesday afternoon, Breakthrough Listen planned to aim a huge telescope in West Virginia at ‘Oumuamua for 10 hours.

"With our equipment ... we can detect a signal the strength of a mobile phone coming out of this object," Milner says. "We don’t want to be sensational in any way, and we are very realistic about the chances this is artificial, 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."

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