Researchers will listen for radio signals coming from ‘Oumuamua. Days ago, the object entered our solar system from far away.

Scientists from Breakthrough Listen, using the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank in West Virginia, will listen to radio signals coming from the asteroid ‘Oumuamua.

Breakthrough Listen is an international program that searches for signals that may come from intelligent life beyond our own. The internet billionaire Yuri Milner funded this $100m project.

However, the cigar-shaped body arrived from interstellar space and reached a peak speed of 196,000 mph as it swept past the sun.

“We’re going to cover the entire range, and we’re basically looking for electromagnetic emissions that are known to only arise from technology,” Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley SETI Research Center and part of Breakthrough Listen, told CBC News.

“Ultimately, we want to cover as much of the electromagnetic spectrum as we can.”

Researchers on the Pan-Starrs telescope observed the weird object for the first time. Astronomers picked it up as it swept past Earth at 85 times the distance to the moon.

Scientists named it after the Hawaiian word for “messenger”.

Astronomers believe, ‘Oumuamua left its home some 300,000 years ago, thus, arriving here today. However, astronomers have never seen an asteroid with such shape.

Early observations of the asteroid show that it is about 400m long but only one tenth as wide.

Observing the cigar-shaped object

The body is now about twice as far from Earth as the sun. But the Green Bank telescope can still detect transmissions, from that distance, as weak as those produced by a mobile phone.

“The chances that we’ll hear something are very small, but if we do, we will report it immediately and then try to interpret it,” said Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project.

“It would be prudent just to check and look for signals. Even if we find an artefact that was left over and there are no signs of life on it, that would be the greatest thrill I can imagine having in my lifetime. It’s really one of the fundamental questions in science, perhaps the most fundamental: are we alone?”

However, by studying this weird object closely, astronomers will learn how such elongated objects could be created in asteroid belts.

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Thumbnail image: An artist’s impression of ‘Oumuamua. Scientists will monitor the asteroid to see if it is transmitting anything. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser/PA