Radio Telescopes Study ‘Oumuamua, Fail to Find Alien Signals

“We were looking for a signal that would prove that this object incorporates some technology ..."

Scientists have pointed radio telescopes towards ‘Oumuamua, and have failed to find any alien signals emitting from the mysterious object.

However, experts warn that these results still do not rule out the interstellar object is an alien probe.

Scientists working at the SETI Institute have tried answering the controversial claim made by Harvard researchers who suggest the object could be of an alien design, using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). They wanted to observe ‘Oumuamua when it was about 170 million miles away, or slightly less than the diameter of Earth’s orbit.

An artist's impression of the huge cigar-shaped object called 'Oumuamua.
An artist’s impression of the huge cigar-shaped object called ‘Oumuamua.

If artificial radio transmissions were picked up scientists would have found ‘strong evidence’ that the mysterious interstellar object is not simply an asteroid speeding across the solar system because of a random gravitational slingshot.

Gerry Harp, lead author of a paper to be published in the February 2019 issue of Acta Astronautica explained that “We were looking for a signal that would prove that this object incorporates some technology – that it was of artificial origin.”

However, nothing was picked up when experts pointed the radio telescopes towards ‘Oumuamua.

A NASA graphic showing the distinctive tumbling motion of ‘Oumuamua.
A NASA graphic showing the distinctive tumbling motion of ‘Oumuamua.

“We didn’t find any such emissions, despite a quite sensitive search. While our observations don’t conclusively rule out a non-natural origin for ‘Oumuamua, they constitute important data in accessing its likely makeup.”

Observations made between November 23 and December 5, 2017, with the helo of the wide-band correlator of the ATA at frequencies between 1 and 10 GHz and with a frequency resolution of 100 kHz discovered nothing out of the ordinary.

As explained by, “No signals were found at a level that would be produced by an omnidirectional transmitter on-board the object of power 30 – 300 milliwatts. In portions of the radio spectrum that are routinely cluttered by artificial satellite telemetry, the threshold for detection was as high as 10 watts.”

“In all cases, these limits to the powers that could be detected are quite modest – comparable to that of cell phones or citizen band radios.”

But that doesn’t mean we can rule out its artificial origin just yet, say experts.

After the enigmatic object was discovered for the first time in 2017, it has been the subject of controversies as a number of scientists have proposed that the object–first thought to be a comet–is, in fact, an alien space probe, sent by a distant extraterrestrial civilization to study life in our solar system.

There are a couple of things that make the asteroid stand out from anything else we’ve encountered so far.

First of all, it’s extremely elongated. Secondly, it has no come, when observed, which according to some strengthened the theories that the object isn’t neither an asteroid nor a comet.

While no signals were found coming from Oumuamua, the types of observations reported by SETI Institute scientists may have utility in constraining the nature of any interstellar objects detected in the future, or even the small, well-known objects in our own Solar System.  It has been long-hypothesized that some of the latter could be interstellar probes, and radio observations offer a way to address this imaginative, but by no means impossible, idea.

Acta Astronautica
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