Q&A with Harvard's Avi Loeb on our alleged extraterrestrial visitor
5:01

Q&A with Harvard's Avi Loeb on our alleged extraterrestrial visitor

Science
So I'm on zoom with Professor Avi Loeb, who is the professor of science at Harvard. And that's where he has also chaired the Astronomy Department for almost a decade, in fact, longer than anyone ever has. He also founded the black hole initiative and is a chair on the National Academies, Physics and Astronomy board. And that's just the beginning of a very long resume in astronomy. Astrophysics and cosmology, but now he has a new book coming out that is going to create a stir and we're going to dig into it. So professor Abraham thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. Thanks for having me. So for much of your career and it has been a pioneering, one started to studying far off things. Black holes and the earliest days of the universe, but your new book, which is titled extraterrestrial, is about oumuamua, which people may remember Was the first Interstellar object that was seen passing through our solar system back in 2017. And it was weird for a number of reasons that we'll get into. And a number of astronomers have concluded that moon moon was likely an unusual comet or asteroid or some other kind of natural object that came from beyond our solar system. But you have a different hypothesis. You argue for and lay out in the book. Can you summarise for me what that hypothesis is? At first, you know, astronomers thought maybe it's a comet because comets are the most loosely bound the objects to the solar system they reside in the Oort cloud at the periphery of the solar system and they can easily be at. Taken out of the solar system bypassing stars and so the same can apply to other systems and you would assume that it's a rock covered with ice. So when it gets close to the sun it would, the ice would warm up and you'd get a cometary tail and that was the expectation. However, there was no commentary tape. So it couldn't be a comment the way we know it. So then people say, Well, maybe it's a rock, just like an asteroid that has no ice on the surface doesn't evaporate. The problem with that is that About half a year later there was a report that it exhibited an extra push away from the sun that is often associated with a cometary tail that didn't exist in this case. The question is, what is it and what could give it the extra push and we suggested that it might be a technological artifact, a sale. That is pushed by the sunlight as it reflects sunlight and this concept of lightsail is currently being developed by us. for space exploration. You put forth this lightsail hypothesis. And suggested that that should be considered and I think maybe was a year after that. That paper came out by a group of astronomers, including the people that discovered them originally. And the gist of that paper, essentially is we think this is natural. There's a lot of. Things we don't understand and there's a lot of properties that we can explain, but we definitely don't think it is what Avi says it is. A fair summary. Well, I'm not surprised. I was not surprised by this because if you show A cell phone to a caveman you know that they looked at the rocks all of his life the caveman would conclude the cell phone is just a well polished rock, you know and obviously people tend to Associate whatever they see with what they've seen before you need to be open minded in order to find wonderful things. Otherwise you know, you will never discover them if you always assume that the future is the same as the past. And my point is, this object was sufficiently peculiar for to merit our attention rather than. Have a group of people declare that it's not interesting or boring. If it's a piece of equipment, it's probably defunct, or it may be just a surface layer of something else, a spaceship or something that was torn apart or we don't know what the nature of it is the key issue here on the table as far as I'm concerned is Whether it's artificially made or naturally made. But in the future we can find other objects. And in three years, the LSST survey of the Vera Rubin observatory, for example, would be far more sensitive than the pan star stethoscope that discovered or more and more, and it could find one per month. And then if it one of these objects approaches us, we can send the camera close to it, take a photograph, and I would be the first to agree that if we see a rock, then it's natural. But if we see something unusual, we should check it. But just saying that the evidence we got on omamori does not justify even checking Unusual objects that enter the solar system that to me is a betrayal of the duty of a scientist.

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