If you’re a fan of science fiction, you might have wondered if Oumuamua, the cigar-shaped, visiting asteroid from interstellar space, might have come straight out of an Arthur C. Clarke tale. The group behind the extraterrestrial-hunting Breakthrough Listen thought so, too, and announced that it would monitor Oumuamua for signals that might indicate that it is occupied by an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization. So far, Breakthrough Listen has not detected any such signals.
However, a spokesperson for the project said, “The analysis is not yet complete.”
The head of Breakthrough Listen, Andrew Siemion of the University of California Berkeley, acknowledged the unlikelihood that the project would actually detect any evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence coming from the wandering asteroid: “Oumuamua is most likely an asteroid, ejected from its host star in some chaotic event billions of years ago, and finding its way to our Solar System by chance.”
Detected two months ago, Oumuamua is the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system. The name comes from a Hawaiian word for “Messenger” or “Scout.” It swung past Mars last November and its parabolic path is expected to take this asteroid pass Saturn’s orbit on the way out of the solar system in January 2019. If it is an alien spacecraft masquerading as an asteroid, then it is likely to be a dead one that represents a failed interstellar mission.
Developing the ability to send a crew to check out interstellar visitors that may be evidence of past or present extraterrestrial intelligence, as was suggested in Doug Turnbull’s Ribbon to the Sky, may produce interesting results.
Breakthrough Listen claims to use some highly sensitive instruments that can detect signals from the closest one million stars to Earth. It is currently conducting a 10-year, $100,000,000 survey of nearby stars and galaxies for extraterrestrial signals.