Late 2017 – the astronomers in Hawaii spotted something strange. The first known interstellar object- almost looking like a blip of light went past the sun very fast. Nobody knew what it could be. Some said it could have been from a star. Being an unprecedented sighting, astronomers were trying to find out more about it. How could such an object get into the Milky Way?
The answer was difficult to find, but scientists used their ‘reason’ and dubbed it as a rock or an asteroid that was propelled from some star that was undergoing meltdown, maybe hundreds of millions of years ago. Or it could just be a comet that had wandered into this void. These are simple explanations and may seem like a way to put a theoretical understanding of something that has not been explained before.
However, Avi Loeb, the chairman of the astronomy department at Harvard University has a different take on this situation. Being as honest as he could be, he claimed that if one considers the artificial origin of the object, it is clear that it is a lightsail that is floating in space. According to Loeb, it is debris from a piece of advanced technological equipment. He has also countered the other theories. Countering the theory that says it is some sort of a rock, Loeb said that the rock was moving too fast and hence, it cannot be an inert rock that defies the laws of physics. For the astronomers who claimed that it was a comet, Loeb argues that a comet should have a jet of steam behind it as comets do, but the scientists who observed the object did not see any such sign.
The rock has been dubbed as Oumuamua – which is the Hawaiian word for ‘scout’. So, did some alien civilization send out a scout to explore the Milky Way? Loeb does not say that it is a definite alien ship. Rather, he claims that the rock was not shaped like a normal rock. It was very long and was only 1 millimeter thick. It almost looked like a pancake. And it seemed like the sun was trying to push the object away from the solar system – acting like a fuel that propels an object. Considering all the things, alien technology fits the description perfectly.
Loeb made the sighting of Oumuamua into a sensational event and has really shaken academia to the core. However, not all scientists are in favor of him or his theories. Ethan Siegel, a theoretical physicist, calls the theory sensationalist and ill-motivated. Katie Mack, an astrophysicist from the North Carolina State University refers to Loeb as a troll who wrote something just to put it out there, even though he did not believe in it himself. Paul M. Sutter, who works as an astrophysicist at Ohio State University, claims that the author of the paper suggesting that Oumuamua is an alien spaceship is actually insulting any form of honest scientific inquiry into the matter.
Despite all the criticism, Loeb is not backing down. The event has taught him more about cosmic modesty. He considers that we as human beings are rather arrogant if we believe that we are the only species living in this universe. He is willing to stake everything, including his job and titles to focus on truth and science. On his desk lies handwritten mathematics that supports his theory of extraterrestrial presence. And whenever he goes out in class and asks the student more about Oumuamua, he hears his theory repeated and he smiles. After all, he is proud of his theory and is just waiting for it to be proven. He is willing to drop it if someone comes with proof against it.
From his childhood, Loeb has read philosophical books and wanted to explore the broader universe. While looking through the telescope, he sees the cosmos as a continuation of his childhood curiosity as to how the world works. The Oumuamua comes to him as yet another humbling experience.
IMAGE CREDIT1: Wikimedia
IMAGE CREDIT2: 3000ad