It will either be the greatest discovery humanity has ever made – or just a pretty cool bit of scientific research.
Scientists are planning to investigate a mysterious cigar-shaped asteroid which entered our solar system to see if it’s an alien probe.
The strange space rock has been named A/2017 U1, or Oumuamua, and is the first asteroid seen arriving in our galactic neighbourhood after speeding through interstellar space – the name for the blank and vast void between stars.
The 400 metre-long asteroid may have been travelling through space on its lonely journey for hundreds of millions of years before it was snared by the sun’s gravitational pull.
But scientists from Breakthrough Listen project think there’s a small chance it’s a spaceship built by some advanced civilisation.
A telescope will now be trained on the object to see whether it’s producing any signals – which would indicate it’s alien in origin – or whether it’s just a plain old asteroid on a solitary path through the heavens.
The unidentified object is up to 800 metres long but very thin and elongated. It is bright red and appears to have been blasted by cosmic rays.
It zoomed through the solar system at a speed of about 60,000 miles per hour before catapulting out into space again to continue its solitary trek between the stars.
However, its strange shape offers few clues about how it was formed, boosting speculation about its artificial origins.
Could it actually be a reconnaissance craft sent out by an alien mothership?
Avi Loeb, an astrophysicist from Harvard University thinks there’s a small chance that the asteroid could finally reveal whether humanity is alone in the universe.
‘Perhaps the aliens have a mothership that travels fast and releases baby spacecraft that freely fall into planetary systems on a reconnaissance mission,’ Loeb told Scientific American.
‘In such a case, we might be able to intercept a communication signal between the different spacecraft.’
Sadly, the alien hunters aren’t getting too excited.
Oumuamua appears to be zooming through space without any external propulsion, suggesting it’s natural in origin, and so far it has not produced any radio signals.
Experts recently suggested it could be the wreckage of a destroyed planet.