When the taboo is strong, it takes strong magic to break it. So when the question is: Are we alone in the universe?—as the priesthood of the church of science has taught us—permission to argue otherwise must come from a very high authority, lest heads roll, or careers end. But now a new book from the very immanent former chairman of Harvard’s department of astronomy offers a virtual high-priestly blessing for the kind of research once reserved for the ‘lunatic’ fringe. In fact, declares theoretical physicist Avi Loeb—deemed one of the world’s top experts on astrophysics and cosmology—real evidence of alien civilization has now been found. A bizarre object that careened through the solar system in 2017, really cannot be properly explained, he believes, except as a product of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Since first detection, the mysterious cigar-shaped interstellar bolide dubbed ‘Oumuamua’ has raised many startling questions. Astronomers now claim they know its dimensions (800 x 100 x 100 feet), but they cannot say exactly what it was. They can, however, tell us what it probably was not. It was not an asteroid, and it was not a comet. It was, in other words, like nothing we have ever seen before.
Upon its discovery in October, 2017, by the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii, early thinking was that the thing was an asteroid, essentially a dry rock or chip, perhaps from an exploded planet. But, after ruling that out, scientists decided it must be a comet, an icy body, originating in the outer regions of some distant planetary system. But, the strange thing was, Oumuamua was not being pulled by the sun’s gravity. Indeed, it was being slightly accelerated away from the sun by some unseen force. Originally this fact had been considered evidence that some kind of outgassing was creating thrust, which suggested a comet. But then, astronomers ruled out the comet theory as well, as they realized that if it were at least partially ice it would not have survived passing so close to the sun, yet it did.
And there were other odd things about Oumuamua: its rotation, for instance. Most such elongated objects spin about their long axis like a well-thrown football, but Oumuamua tumbled end over end. Confused, the experts complained that the object’s brief sojourn through the solar system did not provide them enough time or data for a proper study, so many questions have remained unanswered. Still, some think, if we can just figure out where it came from, we may yet gain a better understanding. As it passed, though, Oumuamua told no tales—at least that astronomers could decipher.
All of that was enough for professor Loeb to write a new book. Oumuamua must have been artificially made, he reasons, perhaps a piece of technology or debris from a faraway alien civilization. It’s all there in Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. Loeb also explains why the very idea of ET civilization arouses such annoyance among his peers. He is, after all, an authority on both subjects.
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