It was an unremarkable day in October 2017 when Canadian astronomer Robert Weryk made an astonishing discovery.
Thanks to data from the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope at the Kaleakala Observatory in Hawaii, Weryk saw an unusual, elongated object about the size of a football field, screaming through the solar system 196,000 miles away. hour.
The strangest thing of all was that it seemed to be speeding up slightly, pushed by an invisible force that has yet to be fully explained
Its highly unusual trajectory caused it to pass our Sun, leading scientists to believe that the space object, later referred to as “‘Oumuamua” or “explorer” in Hawaiian, was the first visitor from outside our solar system to be observed directly.
Over the past three years, countless attempts have been made to explain the unprecedented features of ‘Oumuamua. Some speculated that it was a hydrogen iceberg, while others suggested that it was a traveling space rock covered in a layer of “organic sunscreen.”
For Avi Loeb, an astrophysicist and professor of science at Harvard University, the answer could be tantalizing.
Their controversial argument is that ‘Oumuamua may have been a probe sent by an alien civilization, an explanation that has attracted enormous media attention and, unsurprisingly, proved divisive among experts.
In his new book, entitled “Alien: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” Loeb explores his provocative hypothesis, using the story of ‘Oumuamua to lay the groundwork for a much larger conversation:
The struggle to be taken seriously within a scientific community that has historically maintained the discussion around the search for the existence of remote terrestrial intelligence.
During an interview with Futurism, Loeb argued that the scientists ‘explanations fell short of explaining the many quirks and eccentricities of’ Oumuamua. The scientific community “advocated for something we’ve never seen before,” he said.
An example of this was what Loeb called the “dust rabbit” hypothesis, which theorized that ‘Oumuamua’s strange trajectory could be explained by very low density.
“The problem with that is, I don’t think something the size of a football field that is a dust bunny would survive a journey of millions of years through interstellar space,” Loeb said, aspirating that hypothesis. “I mean, I just don’t think it can stick together.”
For Loeb, the scientific explanations that tried to include ‘Oumuamua in an existing scientific framework simply did not make sense.
“The point is, on the one hand, you can’t say it’s natural,” argued Loeb, “and then when you try to explain it with natural processes, you come up with something we’ve never seen before.”
And that’s how it ended up in aliens. The root of Loeb’s alien theory is that ‘Oumuamua may have been a solar sail sent to us from another star system.
In the simplest terms, a solar or dinghy sail is a form of propulsion of a spacecraft that converts the low pressure of solar radiation into motion.
Earth scientists have already experimented with the concept; In 2019, the nonprofit Planetary Society launched a craft called LightSail-2, which uses 340 square feet of an extremely thin layer of reflective polyester film to gradually propel itself.
For Loeb, a solar sail pushed by starlight could explain the unexpected acceleration of ‘Oumuamua.
If it is solid and not a dust rabbit, the astrophysicist concluded that the interstellar visitor must also be surprisingly thin, perhaps, by his calculations, “less than a millimeter thick.”
For the astronomer, the conclusion of the solar sail was to follow “steps, like Detective Sherlock Holmes. When you rule out all other possibilities, whatever you have left must be the truth. “
That conclusion is an exaggeration for many astronomers in the field, who have repeatedly challenged Loeb’s conclusion.
In a 2019 study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, an international team of researchers argued that they found “no compelling evidence to favor an extraterrestrial explanation” for ‘Oumuamua.
“‘ Oumuamua’s properties are consistent with a natural origin,” University of Maryland astronomer Matthew Knight, a co-author of the study, told Reuters at the time, “and an extraterrestrial explanation is not warranted.”
Their argument was that ‘Oumuamua is a “planetesimal,” or a small fragment of a planetary building block that has just drifted through our star system.
Weryk, who discovered the object in the first place, had no kind words for Loeb’s hypothesis. “Honestly, that’s a bit of wild speculation,” he told CBC in 2018.
“I think it is a remnant of another solar system,” added Weryk. “It’s just something that happened to us by chance, and we were very lucky to have been operating the telescope that night and looking in that direction.”
These rebuttals appear to have emboldened Loeb’s investigations into ‘Oumuamua’s extraterrestrial origins, as well as leading him to make a passionate plea to the scientific community, as outlined in his book, to take SETI research seriously.
For Loeb, it’s about reading the stars with an open mind.
“My guiding principle is modesty,” he told Futurism. “If we are not arrogant, if we are modest, we would say that life, as we have it, must be common.”
“We now know from the Kepler satellite data that about half of the Sun-like stars have a planet like Earth, roughly the same distance, so it can have liquid water and the chemistry of life as we know it.” , Loeb said, referring to the “habitable zone” of a star system within which life could theoretically be supported.