Why does a Harvard astronomer think that a strange spacecraft visited us?
The discovery of intelligent life outside our planet may be the most transformative event in human history, but what if scientists collectively choose to ignore evidence that this is actually happening?
This is the introduction to a new book by a first-rate astronomer, which argues that the simplest and best explanation of the extremely unusual properties of an interstellar body that passed through our solar system in 2017 is that it was a strange technology.
Sounds strange? The evidence shows that it is not, Avi Loeb says, and he is convinced that his peers in the scientific community are so immersed in group thinking that they are not ready to practice the Occam Code Principle, which advocates that, equal in circumstances, the simplest explanation is usually the most likely.
Loeb’s excellent credentials – he was the longest-serving professor of astronomy at Harvard University, published hundreds of groundbreaking scientific papers, and collaborated with greats like the late Stephen Hawking – make it difficult to reject his thesis altogether.
“The belief that we are unique, special and special is arrogant,” he told AFP in a video interview. The right attitude is to be humble and say, ‘We are not something special, there are many other cultures, and we just have to find them.’
A mysterious visitor
Loeb, de 58 años, expone el argumento de los orígenes extraterrestres del objeto llamado ‘Oumuamua (“explorador” en hawaiano) en “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” (Extraterrestre: el primer signo de vida inteligente más allá de Earth).
The facts are as follows.
In October 2017, astronomers noticed that an object was moving so fast that it could only come from another star, making it the first recorded interstellar intruder.
It does not appear to be an ordinary rock, because after its launch around the sun, it accelerated and deviated from the expected path, driven by a mysterious force.
This could easily be explained if a comet expelled gas and debris, but there is no clear evidence of this “gas release”.
The moving object also shook in a strange way, as inferred from the way it became brighter and dimmer in scientists’ telescopes, and was unusually bright, indicating that it was made of shiny metal.
To explain what happened, astronomers had to come up with new theories, such as that it was made of hydrogen ice and thus would have no visible effects, or that it was decomposing in a cloud of dust.
“The ideas that come up to explain certain characteristics of Oumuamua always include something we’ve never seen before,” said Loeb. “If that is the direction we’re taking, why don’t we take it as an artificial origin?”
Sailing in the light
Oumuamua was not photographed closely during his short stay; We only learned about its existence once it actually exited our solar system.
There are two shapes that match the observed characteristics: long and thin like a cigar, or flat and round like a pie, thin as a razor.
The simulations point to the latter, Loeb says, and he believes the object was intentionally designed as a light sail powered by stellar radiation.
Another strange way was the way the body moved, highlighting the weirdness of its passage.
Before meeting our Sun, Oumuamua was “at rest” with respect to nearby stars, which is statistically very rare.
Instead of thinking of it as a ship pushing through space, from the perspective of an object, our solar system collided with it.
“Oumuamua is like a buoy resting in the space of the universe,” Loeb writes. Like a tripwire left by a form of intelligent life, waiting to be activated by a star system
Loeb’s ideas put him in questionable place along with his fellow astronomers.
In an article in a language ForbesAstrophysicist Ethan Siegel referred to Loeb as “a scientist who was once respected” who, after failing to convince his colleagues of his arguments, made him please the audience.
For his part, Loeb protested against the “culture of intimidation” in academic circles that punish those who question the faith, just as Galileo was punished when he suggested that the Earth is not the center of the universe.
Compared to the contemplative but respectful branches of theoretical physics, such as the search for dark matter or the multiverse, the search for extraterrestrial life is a more logical path, he says.
This is why Loeb is pushing for a new branch of astronomy, “space archeology”, to search for biological and technological signs of life beyond Earth.
Loeb, who spent her childhood on an Israeli farmhouse, reading philosophy and thinking about the big things, said life’s questions.
“Pop culture advocate. Troublemaker. Friendly student. Proud problem solver.”