Finding out that there is intelligent life beyond our planet could be the most transformative event in human history – but what if scientists decide to collectively ignore the evidence suggesting it has already happened?
This is the premise of a new book from a top astronomer, who argues that the simplest and best explanation for the highly unusual characteristics of an interstellar object that has passed through our solar system in 2017 is that it was alien technology.
Avi Loeb says the evidence is to the contrary and is convinced his peers in the scientific community are so consumed by group thinking that they are unwilling to wield Occam's razor
Loeb's stellar references – he was the longest-serving president of astronomy at Harvard, has published hundreds of pioneering articles and collaborated with greats like the late Stephen Hawking – make it hard to dismiss outright.
Thinking that we are unique, special and privileged is arrogant “, he told AFP news agency during a video call.
“The correct approach is to be modest and say:” We have nothing special, there are many other cultures and we just have to find them “”
Loeb, 58 years, exposes the argument of the extraterrestrial origins of the object named ‘Oumuamua – “scout” in hawaiian – in “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth”
In October 2017, astronomers observed an object moving so fast it could only have come from another star – the first recorded interstellar intruder
It didn't seem like an ordinary rock, because after throwing a slingshot around the Sun, he accelerated and deviated from the expected trajectory, propelled by a mysterious force
This could be easily explained if it was a comet expelling gas and debris – but there was no visible evidence of this “degassing”
The traveler also fell in a strange way – as evidenced by the way it got brighter and darker in scientists' telescopes, and it was unusually bright, perhaps suggesting that it was made from a shiny metal
In order to explain what happened, astronomers had to come up with new theories, such as the fact that it was made of hydrogen ice and therefore would have no visible traces, or disintegrate into a cloud of dust.
“These ideas that have come to explain the specific properties of ‘Oumuamua always involve something that we have never seen before”, said Loeb
‘Oumuamua was never photographed in close-up during his brief stay – we only learned of its existence once it was already exiting our solar system
There are two forms which correspond to the observed peculiarities – long and thin as a cigar, or flat and round like a pancake, almost as thin as a razor
Loeb says simulations favor the latter and believes the object was deliberately designed as a dinghy powered by stellar radiation
Before meeting our Sun, ‘Oumuamua was “resting” compared to nearby stars – statistically very rare Rather than considering it as a space-crossing vessel, from the point of view of the object, our solar system has bumped into it
Like a trigger wire left by an intelligent life form, waiting to be triggered by a star system
In Forbes, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel called Loeb a “once respected scientist” who, failing to convince his peers of his arguments, had started to bow to the public.
Loeb, For its part, protests against a «culture of bullying» in the academy that punishes those who question orthodoxy – just as Galileo was punished when he proposed that the Earth should not be the center of the universe
Compared to the speculative but respected branches of theoretical physics – like searching for dark matter or multiverse – the search for extraterrestrial life is a much smarter path to pursue, did he declare.
This is why Loeb is pushing for a new branch of astronomy, «space archeology», to research the biological and technological signatures of extraterrestrials
“If we find evidence of technologies that took a million years to develop, then we can get a shortcut to these technologies, we can use them on Earth”, said Loeb, who spent his childhood on an Israeli farm reading philosophy and reflecting on the big questions of life
Such a discovery could also “make us feel that we are part of the same team” as humanity faces threats ranging from climate crisis to nuclear conflict
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