The hypothesis that our first confirmed interstellar visitor might actually be an alien spacecraft has sparked vivid discussions in the astronomical community, as researchers anxiously awaited the first results of the Breakthrough Listen observations of 'Oumuamua.
The preliminary results are finally here, Breakthrough Listen reports in a news release, and although the radio scan of 'Oumuamua has come up empty for now, the data analysis is still ongoing and might yield some interesting conclusions once it is completed, the project team points out.
In an attempt to uncover any signal of alien technology that might be coming from the interstellar asteroid, the $100 billion project overseen by Breakthrough Initiatives conducted a radio scan of 'Oumuamua on Wednesday (December 13).
So far, the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia hasn't detected any evidence of artificial radio signals emitted by the interstellar asteroid 'Oumuamua, the team announced on Wednesday. Along with the preliminary results of the first block of observations, Breakthrough Listen has released the data itself, which is "available for public inspection," the news release mentions.
The Breakthrough Listen investigation was led by none other than Stephen Hawking, the Express reported at the time and used an instrument on the 330-foot (100 m) Green Bank Telescope to study 'Oumuamua across four radio bands that spanned billions of individual channels.
The first block of observations started at 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday and lasted a total of six hours. The Breakthrough Listen team observed 'Oumuamua for two hours and gathered 90 terabytes of "raw data" on the interstellar asteroid, shows the news release.According to Breakthrough Initiatives, the team has already begun sifting through the massive volume of data, searching for radio signals that might have an artificial origin and could point to an alien civilization. Even though no such signal has yet been discovered, the team is still monitoring and analyzing data, in what is expected to be a long-running process.
"It is great to see data pouring in from observations of this novel and interesting source," Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Center, said in a statement.
In addition, Breakthrough Listen is planning to perform three other blocks of observations, which might soon render even more compelling results.
The radio scan of 'Oumuamua aimed to examine the possibility that the cigar-shaped interstellar asteroid might actually be an alien probe manned by an extraterrestrial civilization.
The speculation that the asteroid might not be a natural object, after all, was fueled by 'Oumuamua's unique appearance, coupled with the fact that no other similar objects have been spotted in the two months since the asteroid was first discovered by the Pan-STARRS-1 telescope at the Haleakala Observatory, in Hawaii.
"We will keep searching for artificial signals from 'Oumuamua or any other interstellar object that will be discovered in the future," Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project, said in another statement.
Siemion anticipates the next block of observations could take place sometime at the end of this week, The Guardian informs.
"We expect our next observation window to be scheduled for Friday or Saturday, when we should get a view of additional phases of 'Oumuamua as it rotates," he explained
"We're now digging into some of the intermittent candidates, and trying some new machine learning-based techniques we have been working on," Siemion disclosed.