Scientist set to study interstellar object for signs of life - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Scientist set to study interstellar object for signs of life

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European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser European Southern Observatory/M. Kornmesser

Scientists have been keeping an eye on the first known interstellar asteroid called 'Oumuamua since its discovery back in October. Starting Wednesday a team will be studying it in search of signals indicating it is in communication with extraterrestrial intelligent life.

Avi Loeb, an astronomer at Harvard University, reached out to Yuri Milner, the funder behind the Breakthrough Listen project, to use a radio telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, to observe  'Oumuamua for signs of radio signals.

Breakthrough Listen announced the plan to observe the interstellar object Monday in a release. The observations will start Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time and continue for about 10 hours. 

“‘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,” said Listen’s Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center. “Whether this object turns out to be artificial or natural, it’s a great target for Listen.”

The researchers aren't holding their breath that Wednesday's planned observations will turn up anything, but if they do, that's instant evidence of alien life.

"If it's a piece of rock, like most astronomers would tend to assume, then there should be nothing," Loeb told Newsweek. "Any signal would be indicative of something unusual." 

Milner says his team of researchers should seize the opportunity to study the asteroid while they still have a chance. The object will pass the orbit of Jupiter next year and past Pluto by 2020.

"Even if most [interstellar objects] are natural, there still could be one out of a million that is special, Loeb said. "We should check each and every one of them."

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