Oumuamua: First results from scientists scanning mysterious object don't yet show evidence it is an alien spacecraft

Andrew Griffin
Artist's concept of interstellar asteroid 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua) as it passed through the solar system after its discovery in October 2017. The aspect ratio of up to 10:1 is unlike that of any object seen in our own solar system: ESO

Scientists scanning a mysterious object that flew past Earth to see if it has alien technology have reported their first results.

The organisation behind the project – Breakthrough Listen, which is supported by Stephen Hawking – said that it had found no evidence of artificial signals yet. But it had much more work to do to look through the huge amounts of data collected during the scan, it said.

When Oumuamua flew through the solar system last month, researchers quickly scrambled to understand what the strange object was. It is the first object confirmed to have visited our solar system from another star.

Most agree that it is a rock that has been flying through the solar system for sometime, perhaps having formed when a planet was ripped apart by its sun. But others have suggested the strange characteristics of the object may suggest something artificial.

Oumuamua is much longer than it is wide, for instance – a shape that experts suggest would be useful for long-distance space travel. And it isn't clear where it came from or is going to.

To test that, experts working with the Breakthrough Listen project decided to point a huge telescope towards the rock and see if it could pick up any trace of alien technology. It listened out for radio activity that might be emitted by the object, whatever it is.

But scientists have picked up no such activity yet: "No such signals have been detected, although the analysis is not yet complete", the organisation writes. There is still plenty of work yet to be done – as well as looking through the data, the scan on Wednesday evening was the first of a planned four blocks to look at the object.

The project said that the sheer amount of data that was collected means that it won't be able to have looked through it all soon. "A search for signals that may be of artificial origin has begun, but despite the impressive computational power of the Breakthrough Listen computing cluster at Green Bank, the large data volumes mean that this will take some time to complete."

All of the data is being posted online for the public to look at. Breakthrough Listen cautioned that the complex data "may be challenging for non-experts", but has posted a guide to going through the data for people who want to help with analysing the object and asked the public to get involved if they wish.