Scans yet to uncover alien origin of interstellar comet

Initial scans of a cigar-shaped interstellar ‘comet’ have yet to confirm it is of extra terrestrial origin.

Scientists began listening for signals coming from the space rock, named Oumuamua, using the world’s largest directable radio telescope yesterday.

A number of prominent figures have claimed the strange object may be an alien vehicle of some kind.

 One of the world’s richest men, Yuri Milner, says he remains convinced cigar-shaped interstellar ‘comet’ is of extra terrestrial origin. Scientists began listening for signals coming from the space object, named Oumuamua, yesterday


A cigar-shaped comet named ‘Oumuamua sailed past Earth last month and is the first interstellar object seen in the solar system. 

It was first spotted by a telescope in Hawaii on 19 October, and was observed 34 separate times in the following week.

Travelling at 44 kilometres per second (27 miles per second), the comet is headed away from the Earth and Sun on its way out of the solar system. 

The comet is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated – perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. 

That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date.

But the comet’s slightly red hue — specifically pale pink — and varying brightness are remarkably similar to objects in our own solar system. 

Initial readings, taken by scientists from Breakthrough Listen, have been made public for the first time.

Experts used the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia, to follow the object for ten hours on Wednesday from around 8pm GMT (3pm ET).

They are listening for electromagnetic signals, no stronger than those emitted by a mobile phone, that cannot be produced by natural celestial bodies. 

If they find them, it would be proof that extraterrestrial forces really could be at play.

So far, there has been no evidence of artificial signals emanating from the object, but sorting through the large volumes of data collected may take some time to complete.

A block of observations, the first of four which are planned, ran from 8.45pm GMT (3:45pm ET) to 2.45am GMT Thursday (9:45pm ET Wednesday).

Speaking to MailOnline about the results Andrew Siemion, director of Berkeley SETI Research Center, said: ‘The most interesting property of the universe is that it gave rise to beings capable of asking about its existence.

‘That’s a fascinating thing from every possible angle.

‘To find technologically advanced life elsewhere could suggest that intelligence is a defining characteristic of the universe.

‘It’s virtually certain Oumuamua comes from another star system, so it’s alien in that sense.

‘Whether it’s artificial, that’s a very remote possibility.

‘We spend most of our time surveying pedestrian objects, but occasionally something special will capture our attention.

‘They all turn out to be natural, until one doesn’t.

‘With the technology we now have, it’s a straightforward thing for us to look, but that’s all we can do.’  

Oumuamua is a Hawaiian term meaning ‘a messenger from afar arriving first’.

Breakthrough Listen observed Oumuamua across four radio bands, spanning billions of individual channels across the 1 to 12 GHz range. 

The instrument accumulated 90 TB of raw data over a two hour observation of Oumuamua itself. 

So far, data from the S-band receiver – covering frequencies from 1.7 to 2.6 GHz – has been processed, and analysis of the remaining three bands is ongoing.

The cigar-shaped object, named 'Oumuamua  by its discoverers, sailed past Earth last month and is the first interstellar object seen in the solar system

The cigar-shaped object, named ‘Oumuamua by its discoverers, sailed past Earth last month and is the first interstellar object seen in the solar system


Breakthrough Listen is a scientific program in search for evidence of technological life in the Universe.

It aims to survey one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical bands.

The ambitious $100 million (£76 million) project has been bank rolled by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Russian Billionaire Yuri Milner and physicist Stephen Hawking.

Most intriguingly, it is the wrong shape for an asteroid — they are typically round. 

Another oddity is that Oumuamua is flying very ‘cleanly’, without emitting the usual cloud of space dust that astronomers observe around asteroids.

Experts say this suggests it is made of something dense: probably rock, but possibly metal.

One astronomer claims that the space rock, named Oumuamua, could be an alien spacecraft with broken engines that is tumbling through our solar system.

Dr Jason Wright from Penn State University suggests that a broken alien spacecraft  move in exactly the same way as the interstellar comet.

Oumuamua was first detected on October 19 by a long-running research programme called Pan-STARRS, which uses powerful telescopes to photograph and monitor the night sky at the University of Hawaii.

Its amazing speed has led some experts to conclude it is the first such object to have come towards us from outside our solar system. 


Most comets follow ellipse-shaped orbits around the sun. 

But this comet appears to orbit at an angle, and doesn’t circle the sun.

Its orbital path suggests it entered our solar system from the direction of the constellation Lyra, looped around the sun, and will never return.

But others have suggested that the comet did come from Earth, but interacted with Jupiter or another planet, which changed its orbit.  

Analysts also say its faintly red colour indicates it has been subjected to interstellar cosmic radiation which is harsher than we experience in our solar system.

The fact that it doesn’t seem to have engines or show signs of propulsion may wreck the interplanetary-spacecraft theory. 

If a radio signal does come back from the object, Professor Avi Loeb, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, suggests that we will need to proceed with caution.

Speaking to MailOnline, he said: ‘My recommendation, as in any dialogue, is that we first listen and do our best to understand what we are hearing. 

‘Once we figure this out, we can decide how to respond. 

‘Overall, I am an optimist. I believe that a very intelligent civilisation will be peaceful, and we could save ourselves millions or billions of years by learning from it. 

‘But there is also the possibility that such a civilisation will have hostile intentions and risk our existence, so we should deliberate carefully in any future contact with them.’