Mystery visitor to solar system: asteroid — or artifact?

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jserraglio
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Mystery visitor to solar system: asteroid — or artifact?

Post by jserraglio » Tue Dec 12, 2017 4:23 pm

Aliens? Maybe.
The Wash Post
By Ben Guarino

This visitor from beyond our solar system will be probed for signs of life.

Our solar system has a visitor. It’s cylindrical, dark and reddish, a quarter-mile long. The object won’t be staying. This fall, astronomers announced that the thing came blazing into our neck of the galaxy at speeds of up to 196,000 mph. It is now headed away as quickly as it came.

The object’s trajectory is so strange and its speeds are so blistering that it probably did not originate from within our solar system. Its discoverers concluded that the object is a rare interstellar traveler from beyond our solar system, the first object of its kind observed by humans.

Astronomers at the University of Hawaii, who discovered the object with the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, said the visitor was an asteroid. In October, they named the asteroid ‘Oumuamua — Hawaiian for “messenger.” ‘Oumuamua, which appears rocky or metallic, lacks the characteristics of a comet.

Some scientists, though they are swift to say ‘Oumuamua is probably natural, have not yet ruled out more extraordinary origins. “The possibility that this object is, in fact, an artificial object — that it is a spaceship, essentially — is a remote possibility,” Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center, told The Washington Post on Monday.

Siemion is a member of the Breakthrough Listen initiative: a $100 million project, backed by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, to hunt for extraterrestrial intelligence. This week, researchers with the Breakthrough Listen initiative announced that a radio telescope will probe ‘Oumuamua for signs of technology. The telescope, nestled within the hills of the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, begins its search on Wednesday.

‘Oumuamua behaves oddly. Planets and asteroids circle the sun on the same plane, like water swirling around a basin. ‘Oumuamua dipped into the solar system from outside the plane, as if leaked from a cosmic faucet.

It is shaped strangely, too. Most asteroids of this size are spherical. This object has the proportions of a giant cucumber. In fact, Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb recently told Milner that ‘Oumuamua has the optimal design of a vessel meant to travel through space, the Atlantic reported.

Yet all of its features are “entirely consistent with being a natural object,” said Karen Meech, the University of Hawaii astronomer who led the research team to measure ‘Oumuamua’s physical properties. “That being said, we cannot disprove the unlikely hypothesis that it is not.”

Astronomers across the planet have turned their sensors at the object. The European Southern Observatory followed up on the initial Hawaiian detection from Chile, peering at ‘Oumuamua through the Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Though the most likely explanation for ‘Oumuamua is that it’s lifeless rock, scientists aren’t about to let it breeze by without scrutiny. That’s why they are using Green Bank. Over the past 18 months, SETI astronomers have installed detectors at the telescope to look for signs of electromagnetic activity in space. If an electronic device no more powerful than a WiFi router or telephone handset is transmitting on ‘Oumuamua, the telescope will be able to sense it.

“Green Bank is the most capable radio telescope in the world for conducting these types of observations,” Siemion said.

“This is the sort of opportunity that one would hate to miss, even if the chances are extremely low for success,” Meech said. SETI researchers typically measure the distance to curious objects in light-years. ‘Oumuamua is still within light-minutes of Earth.

“If you don’t try the experiment,” she added, “you will never know.”

Ben Guarino is a reporter for Speaking of Science.
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jbuck919
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Re: Mystery visitor to solar system: asteroid — or artifact?

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Dec 13, 2017 1:58 am

We cannot disprove that the sun will not rise tomorrow. This is interesting, no doubt, but the chances of it being of intelligent origin are, well, an astronomical figure to one. Also, it takes a certain mass for a celestial object to approximate a sphere. Even the moons of Mars are not remotely spherical.

Image

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jserraglio
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Re: Mystery visitor to solar system: asteroid — or artifact?

Post by jserraglio » Wed Dec 13, 2017 5:25 am

jbuck919 wrote:
Wed Dec 13, 2017 1:58 am
We cannot disprove that the sun will not rise tomorrow.
Oumuamua is a bird of a strikingly different feather, an interloper from who knows where, the first interstellar object ever found to pass through our solar system. Naturally, that would arouse curiosity.

We might learn more from it as a natural object than if it somehow turned out to be artificial. Stephen Hawking and other scientists are said to be investigating.

Image
Artist's conception of Oumuamua

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