Is it more terrifying that we could be alone in the universe, or that we might, in fact, not be?
Such is the classic double-edged sword of cosmological possibilities, and we might be about to find out which of those possibilities is in fact true thanks to a massive object which is incredibly close to Earth.
The massive, cylindrical object has been dubbed ‘Oumuamaua’, and it soared past planet Earth just last month.
And now, Stephen Hawking, is on a mission to find out whether the object is an alien probe or not – as he believes that could well be the case, according to The Daily Star.
Breakthrough Listen, a £74 million search for alien life is also on the trail, using a massive radio telescope to track the hurtling object.
They’re trying to listen for electromagnetic signals which couldn’t possibly come from a natural object.
This could be the biggest discovery in human history, and is quite frankly terrifying.
Hawking and his colleagues at the project said:
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 minimise friction and damage from interstellar gas and dust.
The mysterious object is the first of its kind to be observed in the solar system, and is named after the Hawaiian word for ‘messenger’.
It is roughly 400 metres long but only about 40 metres wide, which is strange, according to Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University.
Interstellar object Oumuamua defies explanation – it is the most unlikely shape for an asteroid. Could it be a spacecraft? SETI are to test. I am on Sky News at 14.10 talking about whether intelligent alien life is about to be discovered @ImperialRSM pic.twitter.com/PMKqOWGjh6
— Matthew Genge (@rockbloke) December 12, 2017
The chances that we’ll hear something are very small, but if we do, we will report it immediately and then try to interpret it.
It would be prudent just to check and look for signals. Even if we find an artefact that was left over and there are no signs of life on it, that would be the greatest thrill I can imagine having in my lifetime.
It’s really one of the fundamental questions in science, perhaps the most fundamental: are we alone?
The #BreakthroughListen #SETI project is currently observing the interstellar asteroid #Oumuamua as it speeds into deep space — just in case it's an alien spaceship: https://t.co/rUkXdpqyHt #news #astronomy #radioastronomy via @brkthroughprize pic.twitter.com/H4xBRpy9C2
— AstroSociety Pacific (@AstroSocietyPac) December 11, 2017
The reason this object is so peculiar is because scientists don’t have any great ideas as to why the object could be naturally produced in that shape from asteroid belts.
Even if they don’t detect alien life, it is hoped the project will glean some info as to just how these objects might form and whether there are others in the solar system which have gone unnoticed.
It has been uncovered that the object is an incredibly dark red, and absorbs around 96 per cent of all light which falls upon it.
Director of the Berkeley Seti Research Centre in California, Dr Andrew Siemion, has explained:
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.
Whether this object turns out to be artificial or natural, it’s a great target for Listen.
Whatever the case, it’s likely we will get some form of interesting observations from this intriguing object, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye on any future updates about our position in the universe.