When the first sign of intelligent life from space visits us, it will not be a giant plate hovering over New York. Most likely, it will be the garbage of an alien civilization.
Avi Loeb, head of Harvard’s astronomy department, thinks he’s actually found some of this trash.
In his next book,Extraterrestrial: the first sign of intelligent life outside Earth(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Jan.26, Professor makes a compelling case for why an object that recently wandered into our solar system isn’t just another rock but is actually a piece of space technology.
The object in question traveled toward our solar system from the direction of Vega, a nearby star 25 light-years away, and intercepted the orbital plane of our solar system on September 6, 2017.
On September 9, its path brings it closer to the sun. At the end of September, it set off at about 58,900 miles per hour beyond the orbital distance of Venus, and then, on October 7, it blasted past Earth before “rapidly moving toward the constellation Pegasus and the blackness behind it,” Loeb wrote in a book.
The object was first observed by an observatory in Hawaii containing the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) – the highest identification telescope on Earth.
The alien object was called “Oumuamua” (pronounced “Oh Moo Ah Moo Ah”), which is Hawaiian, which means – roughly – “Scout.”
With space travelers gone, it was relatively small at about 100 yards long, but it was a big problem in the scientific community.
For starters, it was the first interstellar object to be detected within our solar system. Judging from the object’s path, astronomers concluded that it was not related to the sun’s gravity – indicating that it was traveling through it.
Clear images cannot be taken, but astronomers were able to train their telescopes on the object for 11 days, and collect packets of other data.
At first, scientists thought it was a normal comet. But Loeb said this assumption runs the risk of allowing “the familiar to define what we might discover.”
What would happen if the caveman saw a cell phone? Asked. “He had seen rocks all his life, and he thought it was just a shiny rock.”
Loeb quickly opened his mind to another possibility: he wasn’t guilty but rather a neglected technology from an alien civilization.
A number of unusual properties about the object helped Loeb to arrive at this conclusion.
First was the dimensions of Oumuamua.
Astronomers have looked at the way an object reflects sunlight. Its brightness varied ten times every eight hours, indicating that this was the amount of time it took to complete a full cycle.
Scientists concluded that the body was at least five to ten times longer than its width – somewhat similar to the shape of a cigar.
No naturally occurring alien object we’ve seen looked like – or even close to it.
“This would make the Umuamua geometry at least a few times more extreme in aspect ratio – or width to height – than the most extreme asteroids or comets we have ever seen,” wrote Loeb in his book.
On top of that, Oumuamua was extraordinarily bright. It was at least ten times more than a typical solar system reflection [stony] Asteroids or comets, “writes the author.
Its surface resembles that of shiny metal.
But the anomaly that really propelled Loeb toward his autism hypothesis is the way in which Oumuamua moved.
He said, “Pushing too much away from the sun – that was the thing that broke the camel’s back.”
Using physics, scientists can calculate the exact path an object should take and the speed at which it should travel due to the gravitational force exerted by the sun. The pulling of the sun will speed up the object dramatically as it approaches, and then expel it from the other side, only to have the object slow down dramatically the further away.
But Oumuamua did not follow this calculated path. In fact, Loeb wrote, the body accelerated “slightly, but statistically high,” as it moved away from the sun.
In other words, it was clearly being pushed by a force other than the Sun’s gravity alone.
At first the explanation seemed simple. Comets exhibit a similar acceleration, because as they approach the sun, their surface temperature rises, and they release gases that were previously frozen, which act as a rocket engine.
However, those materials that were released form a comet’s distinctive tail. Scientists carefully looked for this tail or any sign of gases or dust that might push the umuamua out empty.
Loeb calculated that with these and other anomalies, the odds that Oumuamua was a random comet were roughly one in a quadrillion, leading him to his popular hypothesis.
But what is it exactly?
One possibility can be found, oddly enough, in the technology we already have here on Earth.
About 400 years ago, astronomer Johannes Kepler noticed comet tails blowing in what appeared to be a solar breeze and wondered whether this same force could propel rocket ships through space like a wind pushing boats through water.
It was a clever idea that scientists are now using to develop light sails for the probe. Thin, reflective sheets are opened in space to capture particles streaming from the sun, propelling the ship at great speeds through the empty space. Alternatively, powerful lasers can be directed from the ground into the sail to make it faster.
If we earthly people think about this idea, then why can’t the aliens? Said Loeb, who has been involved in a light sailing project to send a small unmanned craft to a nearby star.
He and his colleagues studied the numbers and assumed, “ Oumuamua was not actually a cigar-shaped disk but likely a disk of less than a millimeter, with sail-like proportions that would explain its unusual acceleration as it departed from the sun.
As for its purpose, Loeb isn’t entirely sure. He speculated that it could be “space junk” that was once used as a kind of astronaut buoy used by an ancient civilization.
The only way to search for it [alien civilizations] It’s looking for their trash, like investigative journalists looking through celebrity trash, “Loeb said.
Of course, not everyone in the scientific community agrees with his theory.
In July 2019, the Oumuamua team of the International Institute for Space Sciences published an article in Nature Astronomy in which they concluded that “there is no convincing evidence in favor of an alien interpretation of” Oumuamua “.
Astronomers were surprised by his theories, Loeb admits, but he is firm about his findings. “Some people don’t want to discuss the possibility of other civilizations,” he told the Washington Post. “They think that we are special and unique. I think it’s a bias that should be abandoned.”
Loeb said that skeptics are bending back to designate the organism’s natural origins and that the explanations they provided to explain its strange properties do not stand up to scrutiny.
For example, some scientists have suggested that “ Oumuamua’s acceleration was caused by the turning of frozen hydrogen on its surface into gas and pushing it like a comet, and the hydrogen could have been invisible to Earth’s infrared cameras, so we did not discover it.
But Loeb and his colleagues published a paper showing that “a hydrogen iceberg traveling through interstellar space will evaporate long before it reaches our solar system.”
Whatever the truth, the stakes are high.
Accepting that an alien race has contacted – even through the trash can – would lead to a serious search for more rubbish, leading us to search for the moon and Mars, for example, in search of debris that might have landed thousands or Millions of years.
If more evidence is found, then we Earthlings will have to start building tools to help us confront extraterrestrials, such as space treaties and academic fields such as astrological linguistics and astronomical economics.
But, perhaps most importantly, any further discoveries could redefine our place in the universe.
“It would put us in perspective,” said Loeb. If we are not alone, are we the smartest kids in the area? If a species has wiped out itself through war or climate change, we can combine our work and act better. Instead, we are wasting a lot of resources on the ground fighting each other. Some and other negative things that are a great waste. ”
Since Oumuamua appeared, a second interstellar object known as 2I / Borisov has been seen entering the Solar System with the Crimean telescope in 2019. But that turns out to be an old comet.
Until recently, our tools weren’t sensitive enough to capture these types of visitors. But Loeb said that the technology will soon make it possible to identify more space travelers, and the only way to solve the “Oumuamua” puzzle is if a similar object is detected and examined more precisely with a probe.
He said his book “should motivate people to gather more data about the next seemingly strange object.”
“If we find another picture and take a picture that looks like a light sail, I don’t think anyone would argue with that.”