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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A newly discovered object from another star system that is passing through our solar system may actually be an alien spaceship or part of one.

A global astronomical group, which searches for evidence of civilizations beyond Earth called Breakthrough Listen, began pointing a powerful radio telescope, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, toward the mysterious cigar-shaped object on Wednesday. They are trying to discover whether they can detect signs that the interstellar visitor, now known as Oumuamua, is actually of alien origin.

“‘Oumuamua’s presence within our solar system affords Breakthrough Listen an opportunity to reach unprecedented sensitivities to possible artificial transmitters and demonstrate our ability to track nearby, fast-moving objects,” said Listen’s Andrew Siemion, Director of Berkeley SETI Research Center. “Whether this object turns out to be artificial or natural, it’s a great target for Listen.

“Oumuamua,” the first observed interstellar asteroid, is shown in an artist’s illustration. It is longer and varies more in brightness than any asteroid to be formed in our solar system.

Even if no signal or other evidence of extraterrestrial technology is heard, Listen observations will cover portions of the radio spectrum in which the object has not yet been observed, and could provide important information about the possibility of water/ice, or the chemistry of a coma (gaseous envelope), neither of which have yet been identified.

Researchers working on long-distance space transportation have previously suggested that a cigar or needle shape is the most likely architecture for an interstellar spacecraft, since this would minimize friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust. While a natural origin is more likely, there is currently no consensus on what that origin might have been, and Breakthrough Listen wants to explore the possibility that ‘Oumuamua could be an artifact.

This first-ever confirmed interstellar visitor was first spotted last month by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii. It’s expected to stick around for another few years before departing our sun’s neighborhood.

The object is so faint and so fast — it’s zooming through the solar system at 40,000 mph.

In a paper to the Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists report that our solar system could be packed with 10,000 such interstellar travelers at any given time. It takes 10 years to cross our solar system, providing plenty of future viewing opportunities.

So why is the object named Oumuamua? In Hawaiian it means “a messenger from afar arriving first.”

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