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The interstellar visitor stays silent: No signs of life yet on ‘Oumuamua

Artist illustration of ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system.

(M. Kornmesser/ESO)

An initial search for artificial signals from ‘Oumuamua, the needle-shaped intruder that zoomed past Earth two months ago, and have come up empty, scientists with the $100 million Breakthrough Listening project announced today (Dec. 14).

But the researchers are not done with analyzing the data that came in from the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia yesterday (Dec. 13), and they also plan to conduct three “blocks” of observations, the members of the team said. [‘Oumuamua: Our 1st Interstellar Visitor Explained in Pictures]

“It’s great to see the data pouring in of sightings of this new and interesting source,” Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Research Center in California, said in a statement. “Our team is excited to see what the additional observations and analysis will reveal.”

‘Oumuamua has caused quite a buzz in the astronomy, planetary science and SETI communities since the asteroid was discovered in mid-October. The object trajectory shows that it came here from another solar system, and the odd, very elongated form has led to speculation that the rock could be of an alien spaceship of some kind.

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The extraterrestrial hypothesis is a long shot, of course, but many astronomers think that the idea is worth the effort. For example, the scientists of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, have been searched for signals of ‘Oumuamua with the help of the Allen Telescope Array, which is located a few hundred miles north of San Francisco. (That hunt has come up empty.)

And now, Breakthrough Listening, a wide project that aims to hunt for signs of intelligent life in the universe, has joined the effort.

The Breakthrough Listening team examined ‘Oumuamua — that can add up to a quarter of a mile (400 meters) long, about four radio bands that span billions of individual channels, yesterday (Dec. 13), using an instrument on the 330-foot (100 m) Green Bank dish.

This observation “block” ran for 6 hours and collected 90 terabytes of data during a 2-hour observation of the interstellar asteroid itself, Breakthrough Listening members of the team said.

Not surprisingly, sifting through all of this information will take a while.

“A search for signals which can be of artificial origin is started, but despite the impressive computing power of the Breakthrough Listening-computing cluster in Green Bank, the large volumes of data mean that this will take some time,” Breakthrough Listening representatives said in the same statement.

And there will still be three Breakthrough Listening observation coming in the near future. So, stay tuned!

Originally published on Space.com.

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