Scientists initially believed that the object, named Oumuamua, was an asteroid but now it has emerged that it has a number of unusual characteristics which could be those of an alien spacecraft.
"Even if no signal or other evidence of extraterrestrial technology is heard, Breakthrough Listen's 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 gaseous envelope, neither of which have yet been identified". It flew past in October when it was spotted by astronomers from the University of Hawaii.
Researchers will use a listening telescope to search for signs of alien technology on 'Oumuamua, the mysterious, fast-moving, cigar-shaped interstellar object now speeding through our solar system. But a number of odd characteristics have led them to wonder whether it might have been intentionally formed.
Breakthrough Listen, a programme from the SETI institute, says: "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".
This diagram shows the orbit of the interstellar asteroid Oumuamua as it passes through the solar system.
The breakthrough Listen project uses radio telescopes to look for signs of alien life, aiming to survey one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical bands.
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The team's efforts will begin on Wednesday, with astronomers observing the asteroid, which is now speeding away from our Solar System, across four different radio frequency bands.
Speaking about this planned study, Dr. Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Seti Research Centre in California, said, "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".
"Most likely it is of natural origin, but because it is so peculiar, we would like to check if it has any sign of artificial origin, such as radio emissions", Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project told the Guardian.
At the object's current distance from Earth, it would take less than a minute for the telescope to detect a transmission with the power of a cellphone's, Breakthrough Listen representatives said.
The asteroid is now twice as far from us as the sun but the telescope can pick up even tiny transmissions from that distance.
Breakthrough Listen's observation campaign will begin on December 13, 2017, at 3:00 pm ET.