Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Disclosure Week? Is Oumuamua Giving Off Radio Signals?


TheAtlantic | The email about “a most peculiar object” in the solar system arrived in Yuri Milner’s inbox last week.

Milner, the Russian billionaire behind Breakthrough Listen, a $100 million search for intelligent extraterrestrial life, had already heard about the peculiar object. ‘Oumuamua barreled into view in October, the first interstellar object seen in our solar system.

Astronomers around the world chased after the mysterious space rock with their telescopes, collecting as much data as they could as it sped away. Their observations revealed a truly unusual object with puzzling properties. Scientists have long predicted an interstellar visitor would someday coast into our corner of the universe, but not something like this.

“The more I study this object, the more unusual it appears, making me wonder whether it might be an artificially made probe which was sent by an alien civilization,” Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department and one of Milner’s advisers on Breakthrough Listen, wrote in the email to Milner.

A day later, Milner’s assistant summoned Loeb to Milner’s home in Palo Alto. They met there this past Saturday to talk about ‘Oumuamua, a Hawaiian word for “messenger.” Loeb ran through the space rock’s peculiarities, particularly its elongated shape, like a cigar or needle—an odd shape for a common space rock, but ideal for a ship cruising through interstellar space.

For Milner, the object was becoming too intriguing to ignore. So he’s decided to take a closer look.
Breakthrough Listen announced Monday that the program will start checking ‘Oumuamua this week for signs of radio signals using the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The interstellar asteroid is now about twice the distance between the Earth and the sun from our planet, moving at a brisk clip of 38.3 kilometers per second. At this close distance, Green Bank can detect the faintest frequencies. It would take the telescope less than a minute to pick up something as faint as the radio waves from a cellphone. If ‘Oumuamua is sending signals, we’ll hear them.