Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb says aliens have visited us when the first-known interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua, entered our solar system.

Have aliens ever visited us? Finding intelligent life beyond our Earth could be the most game-changing event in human history.

The first-known interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua, to visit the solar system in 2017 could be an alien structure, argues Harvard professor Avi Loeb.

Astronomer Loeb is no stranger to controversy. The prolific Harvard University astrophysicist has produced pioneering and provocative research on black holes, gamma-ray bursts, and the early universe, and other standard topics of his field. He’s collaborated on projects with the legendary Stephen Hawking and helmed Harvard’s astronomy department for almost a decade, longer than anyone in the department’s history. 

But he’s also been involved with a more controversial subject such as space aliens.

“The correct approach is to be modest and say: ‘We’re nothing special, there are lots of other cultures out there, and we just need to find them.”

In recent years, he’s become increasingly convinced the interstellar visitor, ‘Oumuamua, that many other astronomers assume is just a peculiar space rock, is really a piece of alien technology sent in our direction by some sort of extraterrestrial civilization.

And Loeb’s stellar credentials make him difficult to dismiss outright.

“Thinking that we are unique and special and privileged is arrogant,” he told AFP in a video call.

In late 2017, ‘Oumuamua entered our Solar System on an unbound and hyperbolic trajectory with respect to the Sun.

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The enigmatic object was detected by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program. But astronomers around the world scrambled to study it.

Scientists discovered Oumuamua only after it had already entered, passed by the sun, and begun to exit our solar system. So, only a few telescopes were able to get anything approaching a good close-up image.

The hasty examinations of this celestial passerby showed it had several properties that defied easy natural explanation.

Scientists first classified the interstellar object as a comet. But observations revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9, 2017, at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second).

This interstellar interloper appears to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a somewhat reddish hue.

But astronomers knew this was not an ordinary rock. After slingshotting around the Sun, ‘Oumuamua sped up and deviated from the expected trajectory, propelled by a mysterious force.

This would be easy to understand if the object was a comet releasing gas and debris. But astronomers didn’t find any evidence of this “outgassing.”

“I submit that the simplest explanation for these peculiarities is that the object was created by an intelligent civilization not of this Earth,” Loeb writes in the introduction to his new book about Oumuamua, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.

This 100-meter-long object did not closely resemble any known asteroid or comet. Neither did its brightness. ‘Oumuamua was at least 10 times more reflective than one of our solar system’s typical space rocks. That luminosity suggested it was made from a bright metal.

This was all fascinating and perplexing for scientists to study.

To explain what happened, astronomers had to come up with novel theories. Some suggested that it was made of hydrogen ice and would therefore not have visible trails, or that it disintegrated into a dust cloud.

“These ideas that came to explain specific properties of ‘Oumuamua always involve something that we have never seen before,” said Loeb.

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“If that’s the direction we are taking, then why not contemplate an artificial origin?”

Because we didn’t have the chance to get a close-up shot of the object, two shapes fit the peculiarities observed—long and thin like a cigar, or flat and round like a pancake, almost razor-thin.

Loeb says simulations favor the latter. But the object got all of the attention when Loeb and one of his graduate students dropped a paper in late 2018 suggesting Oumuamua could be a “light sail” (a type of spacecraft propelled by the momentum of light particles in space) built by a technologically advanced alien civilization.

Another strange trait was the object’s motion.

Before getting close to our Sun ‘Oumuamua was “at rest” relative to nearby stars. It’s like our solar system slammed into it.

“Perhaps ‘Oumuamua was like a buoy resting in the expanse of the universe,” writes Loeb.

Like a trip wire left by an intelligent lifeform, waiting for a star system to trigger it.

Besides bringing a wave of media attention, Loeb brought a backlash from many space scientists.

Some saw Loeb as someone who talks about extraterrestrials primarily for publicity. Others accused him of seeing light sails everywhere. Loeb is on the Breakthrough Starshot team working to send a light sail to our nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

Loeb, for his part, protests a “culture of bullying” in the academy that punishes those who question orthodoxy—just as Galileo was punished when he proposed the Earth was not the center of the universe.

Compared to speculative yet respected branches of theoretical physics—such as looking for dark matter or multiverses—the search for alien life is a far more commonsense avenue to pursue, he said.

That’s why Loeb’s pushing for a new branch of astronomy, “space archaeology,” to hunt for the biological and technological signatures of extraterrestrials.

“If we find evidence for technologies that took a million years to develop, then we can get a shortcut into these technologies, we can employ them on Earth,” said Loeb.

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