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by M.G. Siegler


If True, This Could Be One of the Greatest Discoveries in Human History

Oded Carmeli catches up with Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department, on the topic of Oumuamua -- the first object known to enter our solar system from outside of it. Loeb has a theory about this object, which is fantastic in every sense of the word:

“If you average the velocities of all the stars in the region,” Loeb explains, “you get a system that’s called the ‘local standard of rest.’ Oumuamua was at rest relative to that system. It didn’t come to us. It waited in place, like a buoy on the surface of the ocean, until the ‘ship’ of the solar system ran into it. To make things clear, only one of 500 stars in the system is as much at rest as Oumuamua. The probability of that is very low. After all, if it were a stone that was simply hurled from a different solar system, we would expect it to have the velocity of its star system, not the average velocity of all the thousands of stars in the vicinity.”

The notion that it's not actually moving (relatively speaking), we are (our solar system), and ran into it, is fascinating.

"We have no way of knowing whether it’s active technology, or a spaceship that is no longer operative and is continuing to float in space. But if Oumuamua was created together with a whole population of similar objects that were launched randomly, the fact that we discovered it means that its creators launched a quadrillion probes like it to every star in the Milky Way. Of course, the randomness is significantly reduced if we assume that Oumuamua was a reconnaissance mission that was deliberately sent to the inner solar system – namely, to the habitable region where life would be feasible. But we need to remember that humanity didn’t broadcast anything tens of thousands of years ago, when the object was still in interstellar space. They didn’t know there was intelligent life here. Which is why I think it’s just a fishing expedition.”

This would be the most mundane and, in a way, perfect, way to encounter alien life for the first time.

It’s possible that space is filled with sails like these and we just don’t see them. We only saw Oumuamua because this is the first time we’ve had technology that’s sensitive enough to identify objects of a few dozen to hundreds of meters in size from the illumination of the sun. In three years, the building of the LSST telescope will be completed. It will be far more sensitive than Pan-STARRS and certainly we will see many more objects that originate outside the solar system. Then we’ll find out whether Oumuamua is an anomaly or not.

For all the talk about Fermi's Paradox, it's easy to forget: our "cameras" in the sky are still really, really primitive (again, relatively speaking).


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