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Oumuamua: Mysterious interstellar object probed for signs of alien life

12 Décembre 2017

According to The Atlantic, unlike the potato-shaped asteroids of our solar system, the 400-meter-long Oumuamua is perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide.

The giant dish - the largest fully steerable radio telescope in the world - will "listen" to Oumuamua across four radio frequency bands spanning one to 12 gigahertz from 8pm United Kingdom time on Wednesday.

In October, an oddly-shaped asteroid that came from interstellar space shot through our solar system.

Breakthrough Listen, the global astronomical program searching for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth, announced that it is now focusing its observational efforts on 'Oumuamua, the mysterious interloper recently spotted moving rapidly through the solar system.

As Scientific American author Lee Billings writes: "Oumuamua [Hawaiian for "first messenger"] appeared to have been dropped in on our solar system from some great interstellar height, picking up even more speed on a slingshot-like loop around the sun before soaring away for parts unknown".

"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.

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Lead scientist Dr Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Seti Research Centre in California, said: "Oumuamua's presence within our solar system affords Breakthrough Listen an opportunity to reach unprecedented sensitivities to possible artificial transmitters and demonstrate our ability to track nearby, fast-moving objects". Using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, it will continue to observe 'Oumuamua across four radio bands, from 1 to 12 GHz.

The body is now about twice as far from Earth as the sun, but from that distance the Green Bank telescope can still detect transmissions as weak as those produced by a mobile phone.

"The chances that we'll hear something are very small, but if we do, we will report it immediately and then try to interpret it", Loeb said. "Most likely, this is just a large rock, but it is worth checking for any radio signal to be sure".

Now, astronomers have joined forces with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to study the object in more depth before it sails beyond the range of telescopes. The $100m project is funded by the internet billionaire Yuri Milner, and has secured time on telescopes in the U.S. and Australia to search for alien civilisations. By studying 'Oumuamua more closely, they hope to learn how they might form and whether there are others in the solar system that have so far gone unnoticed. The colour is associated with carbon-based molecules on comets and asteroids.

Breakthrough Listen aims to survey a million nearby stars and 100 nearby galaxies looking for alien signals.

Oumuamua: Mysterious interstellar object probed for signs of alien life