Harvard astronomer argues that alien vessel paid us a visit

Discovering there’s intelligent life beyond our planet could be the most transformative event in human history – but what if scientists decided to collectively ignore evidence suggesting it already happened?

That’s the premise of a new book by a top astronomer, who argues that the simplest and best explanation for the highly unusual characteristics of an interstellar object that sped through our solar system in 2017 is that it was alien technology.

Sound kooky? Professor Avi Loeb says the evidence holds otherwise and is convinced his peers in the scientific community are so consumed by groupthink they are unwilling to wield Occam’s razor.

 

Prof Loeb’s stellar credentials – he was the longest-serving chair of astronomy at Harvard, has published hundreds of pioneering papers, and has collaborated with greats like the late Stephen Hawking – make him difficult to dismiss outright.

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

“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.'”

Mysterious visitor

Prof Loeb, 58, lays out the argument for the alien origins of the object named ‘Oumuamua – “scout” in Hawaiian – in Extraterrestrial: The First Sign Of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.

The facts are as follows.

In October 2017, astronomers observed an object moving so quickly, it could only have come from another star – the first recorded interstellar interloper.

It didn’t seem to be an ordinary rock, because after slingshotting around the Sun, it sped up 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 “outgassing”.

The traveller also tumbled in a strange way – as inferred by how it got brighter and dimmer in scientists’ telescopes, and it was unusually luminous, possibly suggesting it was made from a bright metal.

In order to explain what happened, astronomers had to come up with novel theories, such as 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 Prof Loeb.

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

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