Despite being pretty hopeful, I love articles like these.
Are intelligent extraterrestrials trying to communicate with or study us? Some scientists think that’s a possibility—and that it’s happening right now. Starting at 3 p.m. EST on Wednesday, researchers with the Breakthrough Listen initiative began pointing a powerful radio telescope toward a mysterious object visiting the solar system, hopeful they could detect signs that the interstellar interloper is actually of alien origin.
Breakthrough Initiatives, launched by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to study the galaxy for signs of extraterrestrials, is most famous for its Stephen Hawking–backed Starshot project to send cheap spacecraft to Alpha Centauri at one-fifth the speed of light to find signs of habitability or alien life. Its more conventional SETI sister project, Listen, uses radio telescopes to scan space and listen for complex radio signals that might be signs of an alien civilization.
For 10 hours on Wednesday, Breakthrough Listen will point the Green Bank Telescope, based in West Virginia, at ‘Oumuamua and listen for anything unusual emanating from the object that doesn’t have a conventional explanation. The Green Bank Telescope could detect signals on the scale of a mobile phone coming from ‘Oumuamua, Milner tells Scientific American.
Even if there’s no signal coming from ‘Oumuamua, the Green Bank observations can still collect valuable insight on whether the asteroid possesses water or ice or exhibits any strange chemistry.
There’s no exact timetable for when Breakthrough Listen will announce its findings, but it should be sooner rather than later. It’s highly unlikely ‘Oumuamua is a sign aliens exist, but even skeptics will have to admit there’s rarely been a better object to pin our ET hopes on than this bizarre-looking rock.