This question has been asked by humans for thousands of years – but when a bizarrely fast, cigar-shaped interstellar object shot past Earth, Harvard professor Avi Loeb believes scientists were unwilling to seriously believe it was man-made But Loeb is not to be considered – he says it is very likely that ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “oh moo ah moo ah”) was an interstellar spaceship
Back in October 2017, a postdoctoral fellow named Robert Weryk from the University of Hawaii was searching the usual data stream from the Pan-STARRS astronomical survey of the sky when he noticed an unexpected object that appeared to be greatly elongated, like a stick a long axis ten times longer than its short axis – unprecedented for an asteroid. Some hypothesized that ‘Oumuamua swung towards our solar system as a result of a gravitational slingshot of a binary star system; others that it might be a strange comet, although no tail was apparent, so the search began collecting and analyzing as much data as possible before leaving our solar system
Immediately after discovering its physical properties, the researchers realized that its shape – which would minimize abrasion from interstellar gas and dust – would be ideal for an interstellar spaceship.The idea understandably sent shock waves through the scientific community and sparked controversy that eventually closed Scientists suggest that it was more natural than artificial in origin, but Loeb, the former chair of astronomy at Harvard University, remains positive that it was a light sail – a form of interstellar propulsion – a spaceship powered by So much so that he wrote an entire book about it
This book would be “Alien: The First Sign of an Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” in which Loeb argues that the resistance of the scientific community to discussing the possibility of an alien life does not take his hypothesis that Oumuamua is an alien light sail Loeb was wondering how what happened to ‘Oumuamua was a missed opportunity and that science needs to invest more in finding life in our universe in order to better prepare us for another interstellar visitor, but maybe what on most importantly, at a time when the earth is facing an urgent global warming crisis, Loeb says it could be to find extraterrestrial life that will save us from ourselves
At first, astronomers assumed it must be a comet, as these are the objects most loosely attached to stars We have mainly comets in the outer parts of the solar system These are rocks covered in ice, and if they are when approaching a star, they heat up and the ice evaporates into a comet tail
It was natural to assume that it was Oumuamua, since it came from outside the solar system So the assumption was that it had to be a comet. The problem with that was that there wasn’t a comet tail. Some people say, “Okay, it’s not a comet, maybe it’s just a rock.” But the problem is that about one Half a year later it was reported that, in addition to the force of gravity acting on it from the Sun, there was an excessive thrust.It showed an additional force.Usually this force comes from the rocket effect of the comet’s tail, but there was no cometary tail, so the question was, what was this excessive thrust? generated
In addition, the reflected sunlight [outside of ‘Oumuamua] varied by a factor of 10 during the time it was observed, so this implied that it has extreme geometry. Even if you consider a paper-thin piece of paper, that is tumbling in the wind, the area projected in your direction does not change by more than a factor of 10, since the probability that it will get angular is very small.It falls in the wind so it looked like this had Object an Extreme Geometry The most likely model explaining reflective sunlight as a function of time – as it doubled every eight hours – was that it has a flat, pancake-like geometry that is not as cigar-shaped as it is depicted in some cartoons became
What’s more, it was on the shinier end of all the objects we’ve seen from the solar system.It also came from a special frame of reference called the local standard of calm that is sort of a galactic parking lot that you in when you finding a car, not knowing which house it came from, as this is the frame of reference that you work on with the movement of all the stars near the sun.Only one in 500 stars is referred to as many times in relation to this frame as ‘Oumuamua So it was like a buoy sitting on the surface of the ocean, and then the solar system is like a huge ship bumping into it
So there were a lot of particular facts I tried mainly to explain the excessive thrust, the only thing I could think about is that it came from the reflection of sunlight, then it had to be very thin, like a sail on a boat being pushed by the wind I couldn’t imagine a natural process that would make a sail of light, a sail that is pushed by the light. In fact, our civilization is currently pursuing this technology in space exploration
If this object is artificial, the question is who sent it I should say that in September of this year 2020 another object was discovered that had excessive thrust It was named by the Minor Planets Center 2020-SO which gives names to celestial objects It turned out to be a rocket booster from a failed mission of the moon lander Surveyor II was launched in 1966, which is how astronomers found it intercepted Earth if you go back to 1966
But this object actually showed excessive pressure as well, as it is a hollow rocket booster that is very thin and is pushed down by sunlight We know it’s made man-made It didn’t have a cometary tail We know we made it This is proof that we can tell the difference between a stone and an object that is pushed by the sunlight.For me, it showed the case that Oumuamua may have been artificial, definitely not made by us because it was only in a few months We couldn’t even track it with our best missiles
A light sail is like a sail on a boat that reflects the wind, the wind pushes it. In the case of a light sail, it is the light reflected from its surface that gives it the kick and the thrust. Light consists of particles That’s called photons Just like billiard balls ricocheting off a wall, they put a certain amount of pressure on it. So the particles of light – photons – reflect off the surface, pushing and kicking it
The advantage of this technology is that you don’t have to transport the fuel by spaceship [like rockets] Rockets transport the fuel and expel gas from the exhaust, and so they are pushed forward like a jet plane on a light sail light is reflected That’s why you don’t carry your fuel. You can have a light spaceship. In principle, with this technology you can even reach the speed of light.
As you know, after your paper was published in 2019, another was published in Nature Astronomy that paper suggested a natural origin that ‘Oumuamua could be a small asteroid that came from a solar system with a gas giant orbiting a star and that it could be fragmented and ejected into our solar system. Is there any part of you who thinks this is still a possibility – why or why not?
No, and that’s one of three suggestions astronomers have made about the astral origin, and I’ll mention all three
The [theory] you mentioned has to do with disturbance of an object approaching a star. There are problems with this scenario. First, the chance of getting close enough to a star to be so disturbed is slim most of these types of objects do not move near the star so you need a large number of objects to account for those that are near the star and the fragment. The more important problem is that if you have slivers or fragments as Produce result of destruction near a star, these are elongated – like cigar-shaped The best model for ‘Oumuamua was that it was pancake-shaped that cannot be achieved by destroying a larger object.It is not natural to get that
So that’s my caveat about this scenario – that at first it’s unlikely you will get that many – I mean you need many objects to explain that we discovered ‘Oumuamua’ with all the rocks that that exist in planetary systems, one would of course expect more than one. However, this model even wants Oumuamua-like objects to be made very close to the host star, which makes it even less likely
Then there is another indication of a natural origin, namely that it is a “dust bunny”, as found in a household. But it has to be the size of a football. The dust bunny, the accumulation of particles, is like one Cloud which is then 100 times less dense than air, thinner than air so that sunlight can push it around That doesn’t sound so plausible to me This object was the size of a soccer field and fell around every eight hours I do this out of a dust bunny , a cloud of dust particles, and imagine that this dust bunny would survive in interstellar space for millions of years – I find that hard to believe
Then a third possibility was suggested that it was frozen hydrogen that it’s a hydrogen iceberg We have never seen anything like it We haven’t seen a dust bunny, we haven’t seen a hydrogen iceberg The idea was that if it is made of hydrogen and then the hydrogen evaporates, it is transparent so you can’t see it So there is a comet tail that you simply cannot see. The problem with this scenario, however, is that we have shown in the work that a hydrogen iceberg in interstellar space would evaporate very quickly because starlight hits it and therefore it would not survive the journey
Overall, I find these possibilities less attractive. Everyone is talking about it being something that we have never seen before. So I say that when we discuss it as a natural origin and it is something that we have never seen – then why not also consider an artificial origin? Have we never seen that? That’s all I’m saying I’m not saying that it’s definitely man-made in origin, but that it’s one of the serious options we should be thinking about
I would say for all that we know I would give a high probability that it could have been artificially made, of course the only way to know for sure is to take a picture of something like this, or more To get data on something like this. We can’t do it with ‘Oumuamua because it’s too far away. It’s a million times weaker now than it was when it was close to us. So we missed the opportunity. It’s like having one Guest for dinner If you realize it’s funny, it’s already out the front door into the dark street. That was the first guest, and we should look for more
I definitely understand from your book that this was a missed opportunity to collect data.I thought about how you described in your book, if cave dwellers found a modern cell phone they would as, as you said, dismiss it as a shiny stone
Exactly We tend to explain everything new we see in terms of what we have already seen. This is very natural, but it also suppresses innovation, it doesn’t allow us to see new things. As scientists, we should be open-minded his
Your book is about ‘Oumuamua, but it’s also about encouraging people to think differently about the possibility of extraterrestrial life and to be more open to it. I find it interesting how you can leverage the high investments made by the scientific community with the Compare Dark Matter Exploration to Those Invested in Finding Alien Life Why is the idea of finding dark matter more publicly acceptable and interesting to scientists than finding alien life?
I think the reason for this is that it is less relevant to our lives. If something is near home and affects you emotionally, it causes some problems, people prefer not to have that they prefer to live in peace and are happy
The point about reality is that it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable you are with the idea that reality is whatever it is. By ignoring it, you maintain your ignorance
When the philosophers weren’t looking through Galileo’s telescope, they were happy because they thought the sun would surround the earth, and they maintained their philosophical and religious beliefs that we were at the center of the universe, but that was only temporary only maintained their ignorance for a short period of time, we finally found the earth moving around the sun The fact that they put Galileo under house arrest didn’t change the number of likes on Twitter or whatever we give each other, awards forgive or house arrest or something that only affects our relationship with each other. Reality is whatever it is. If we ignore it, we don’t gain anything, we only lose because we are more ignorant
So my point is that the way to make progress is not by sticking to your ideas and maintaining prejudice.This is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy.If you say I don’t have to look, I know that Answer, I don’t have to look through Galileo’s telescope, of course it is a self-fulfilling prophecy you will never find yourself wrong because you are bullying people who are doing this type of search and you are not funding research on it is like stepping on the grass and saying it won’t grow Science is not about, science is about finding the truth
In the book, you emphasize how great the rewards would be if we discovered extraterrestrial life, I wonder if you could tell our readers more about it, I think people think there would be a negative impact on our lives , but you argue that it could have positive effects on human life and on the earth
First, it gives us a better perspective about ourselves I think astronomy as a whole teaches us humility.We occupy one of ten planets with the power of 20 planets in the observable universe.We are really responsible for a tiny piece of real estate from the great landscape as well we live for a short time in proportion to the age of the universe So that tells us immediately that we are not very significant
People used to think that having an Earth-like planet around a Sun-like star was a rare thing. With the Kepler data, half of the Sun-like stars now have a planet the size of Earth, roughly the same distance apart, so if you arrange similar circumstances, I think you would get similar results
It would be arrogant to assume that we are unique and special You know, I think we are as common as ants on a sidewalk they are out there and we need to look for clues if we keep the idea that we are special and unique we will of course never find evidence
On the other hand, if we have the tools to study this – we have the telescopes – and the public is so interested in us to find the answer, I think it would be a crime for scientists to have that interest from the EU not addressing the public In addition, the public finances science, so we should care about the public’s interests. There are examples from history where we often thought we knew the truth and were wrong
What kind of evidence would the scientific community need to have indisputable evidence that there is extraterrestrial life or more Oumuamua-like light sails in our universe?
That’s an excellent question, one approach, of course, is to find objects like ‘Oumuamua that we can take a picture of, by the way, we don’t necessarily have to track them in space as every now and then one of them can collide with Earth We see these as meteors. One of the meteors coming from interstellar space is possibly space debris from another civilization that gives us the opportunity to put our hands around it. If there is a meteor that lands on the ground, we can work on his Speed realizing that it came from outside the solar system and looks suspicious in terms of its composition We can investigate it. So there are ways to continue this search, even just on the ground, instead of going into space
In addition, instead of looking for oxygen from microbes, we can look for industrial pollution in the atmosphere of other planets around other stars as a technological signature, which would be a way to definitely find evidence of life and industrial life, given the molecules how [CFCs], which contaminate the earth’s atmosphere, cannot be produced naturally. These are complex molecules. If we can find evidence of them on other planets, it would suggest that there is definitely life out there
I find it interesting that this book was published at a time when there is a lot of anti-science sentiment with the coronavirus pandemic, science has become politicized Do you think this harms the legitimacy of the search for extraterrestrial life?
No, I would think the other way around, because I see science as unifying rather than divisive as long as the scientific community cares about the interests of the public and is honest with how much evidence it has for every statement happening in the moment the academic world that scientists say we should never speak to the public until we are absolutely certain about something, otherwise they may not believe us when we say there is global warming I don’t think so that’s the right approach
I think the public should see science being done in the sense that most of the time there is not enough evidence – and we collect more evidence, more data, and ultimately believe that an interpretation is correct when the public agrees Seeing the process in motion, she will not suspect that there is a hidden agenda behind it because it is transparent You are looking at the evidence and anyone who looks has enough evidence and believes the evidence would agree with the conclusions
It should be understandable to everyone, and it should be something that anyone can pursue. And by gathering evidence and thus it is not an occupation of the elite. It should not be suspicious. It should not have a political agenda. It should also be independent what nation is doing it In fact, we can bring different nations together
I wonder what do you think really needs to happen for the scientific community to change to take the search for extraterrestrial life seriously?
Well, more people are speaking like me. And I hope that at some point the funding agencies, the federal funding agencies, will move in that direction too. I think what astronomers need to realize is that given what we know right now, it doesn’t is speculative It’s one of the most conservative ideas to fall back on.It’s a lot more conservative than dark matter where we’re in the dark, so to speak, because there are so many possibilities, people speculate that we’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars in experimentation without much so far Succeeding We don’t know what the “darkness” is made of
Of course, science is a learning experience and no one regrets trying these experiments because we rule out possibilities that is much more speculative because we have never seen evidence of dark matter or direct evidence of the nature of dark matter Science, Searching for the Unknown I would consider searching for an alien civilization – it should be a mainstream activity, especially given the public interest
You have already received a lot of media attention for this book, and it hasn’t even been published. I wonder what I hope people will get from this book and what do you expect from it?
I have two messages and you mentioned them already One is that ‘Oumuamua was unusual, it showed a lot of anomalies that could suggest it is technological equipment and we should investigate and find other objects that are appear so anomalous, and get more data about it, it’s like looking for plastic bottles on the beach
The second message is that the scientific culture should change and be more open to change I’m sorry to say but the commercial sector – companies have been much more open-minded and doing a lot more blue-sky research than the academic world these days / p>
There are companies like Google or SpaceX or Blue Origins – originally it was IBM – that contained a lot of innovations That surprises me It should be the academic world that carries the torch of innovation because it basically has the tenure system which allows people to explore without risk for their work. Unfortunately, many practitioners in science are more concerned about their image and honors, etc. and take a lot less risk and think independently and look for evidence than intellectual gymnastics to show how smart you are
Avi Loeb’s book “Extra-Terrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” is due to be released on 26 To be published by Houghton Mifflin on January 1st, 2021
Nicole Karlis works at Salon She deals with health, science, technology and gender policies. Tweet her @nicolekarlis
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