A bizarre, fast-moving rock with the "proportions of a giant cucumber" has entered our solar system, becoming the first stony object of its sort ever observed zipping through the Milky Way, The Washington Post writes. As if the interstellar passerby wasn't exciting enough, extraterrestrial researchers are gearing up for what could be the observation of a lifetime — proof that intelligent life exists beyond our own little corner of the universe.
"The possibility that this object is, in fact, an artificial object — that it is a spaceship, essentially — is a remote possibility," explained the director of the Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center, Andrew Siemion.
Researchers have named the rock 'Oumuamua, the Hawaiian word for "messenger." 'Oumuamua's strange "behavior" is what has some researches thinking it could be more than just an ordinary quarter-mile-long cosmic pebble:
Planets and asteroids circle the sun on the same plane, like water swirling around a basin. 'Oumuamua dipped into the solar system from outside the plane, as if leaked from a cosmic faucet.
It is shaped strangely, too. Most asteroids of this size are spherical. This object has the proportions of a giant cucumber. In fact, Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb recently told [Russian billionaire Yuri Milner] that 'Oumuamua has the optimal design of a vessel meant to travel through space, The Atlantic reported. [The Washington Post]
To get ready for the event, scientists announced that they will be pointing highly sophisticated radio telescopes at the space rock to pick up if it is using technology to reach its speeds of up to 196,000 miles per hour. The devices are so sophisticated, in fact, that "if an electronic device no more powerful than a WiFi router or telephone handset is transmitting on 'Oumuamua, the telescope will be able to sense it," the Post writes. Read more about the 'Oumuamua visitation here. Jeva Lange
Editor's note: This post originally mischaracterized the location of the space rock. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.