In October of 2017 astronomers detected a mysterious object that supposedly came into our cosmic neighborhood appearing to come from roughly the direction of the star Vega in the constellation Lyra.
Soon after it was spotted using telescopes on Earth, Astronomers rushed to find out as much as they can about the mysterious object referred to as Oumuamua–from Hawaiian ʻoumuamua, meaning “scout”.
Officially speaking, the object, relatively small in size, estimated to be 180 by 30 meters is an ‘asteroid,’ even though astronomer had classified it initially as a comet.
It was spotted for the first time by Robert Weryk using the Pan-STARRS telescope on 19 October 2017, 40 days after it passed its closest point to the Sun.
The object is dark and very red, say astronomers who claim that it is currently traveling at nearly 200,000 miles per hour, in direction of Pluto.
A few characteristics have made this mysterious interstellar traveler the target of further observations, and why some astronomers have pondered whether it is possible that the object isn’t an asteroid, but an alien spacecraft whose engines broke down.
First of all, its the first object from another star system ever observed. furthermore, based on observations spanning 34 days, ʻOumuamua’s orbital eccentricity is 1.20, the highest ever observed.
If the object did, in fact, originate from Vega, astronomers say that accounting for Vega’s proper motion, it would have taken ʻOumuamua 600,000 years to reach the Solar System.
Astronomers do not know for how long has this mystery object been traveling among the stars.
Taking into consideration some of the peculiarities of ʻOumuamua, some astronomers have wondered what if there was more to ʻOumuamua?
What if this interstellar visitor was an actual space probe, sent out by a distant alien civilization?
Scientists from the Breakthrough Listen Project are currently studying the object using the Green Bank Telescope. Astronomers are listening to the object using various radio bands, in order to establish if any radio signals are being sent out by ʻOumuamua. Scientists will be looking at signals as small as those sent out by a modern-day smartphone.
Is it a broken down alien spacecraft?
Alien probe or galactic driftwood? Scientists are about to listen very closely for radio signals from 'Oumuamua, our solar system’s first known interstellar visitor https://t.co/3MI4abXkRm (By @LeeBillings) pic.twitter.com/uik7eTz0Wk
— Scientific American (@sciam) December 11, 2017
Dr. Jason Wright from Penn State University is one of the astronomers who proposes several questions about the object, and makes an argument as to why we may be looking at a ‘broken’ alien probe.
As Professor Wright notes in his blog, and contrary to what many media outlets have said, Professor Wright never claimed that ʻOumuamua WAS, in fact, an alien probe.
“[note: As I wrote in November, I don’t think ‘Oumuamua is an alien spacecraft. While other astronomers have made that suggestion, and while I’m happy to engage in such speculation in a SETI context, I think ‘Oumuamua is interesting in its own right as an asteroid and because of how it is getting us thinking about how to find alien probes in the Solar System.]”
Unlike what many have claimed, Professor Wright questions whether ‘Oumuamua is traveling across our star system as a broken-down spacecraft would.
Writing about ‘Oumuamua Dr. Wright, explained:
“Such derelict craft would if they are not traveling so fast that they escape the Galaxy, eventually ‘thermalize’ with the stars and end up drifting around like any other interstellar comet or asteroid.”
“In fact, since they (presumably) no longer have attitude control, one would expect that they would eventually begin to tumble, and if they are very rigid that tumbling might distinguish them from ordinary interstellar asteroids… and in fact, just because their propulsion is broken doesn’t mean that their radio transmitters would be broken.”
Furthermore, Dr. Wright states that ‘Oumuamua could be a so-called ‘Von Neumann probe‘ – a theoretical self-replicating spacecraft that visits distant solar system.
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Featured image credit: http://www.nss.org/settlement/calendar/AsteroidSettlement_Koshime.htm