I am Eagerly Following Avi Loeb’s Expedition, Part 1 (of 2)
Avi Loeb is former chair of the Astrophysics Department at Harvard University. In 2017, the first interstellar object was detected by the Haleakalā Observatory in Hawaii. It was labeled 'Oumuamua, which is Hawaiian for 'scout'.
As data came in about 'Oumuamua, its properties and trajectory were highly unusual. 'Oumuamua passed right by the earth after traversing the sun. Further, 'Oumuamua was likely very flimsy in mass, disc-shaped, and metallic given its brightness. Lastly, 'Oumuamua sped away faster than the centrifugal force around the sun would allot. In other words, 'Oumuamua sped away with an unknown propulsive force. Oh, and one more thing: there was no comet trail, so ice or gas as a propulsive force could probably be ruled out. It was likely not a comet.
Astrophysicists have been trying to offer natural explanations, but nothing seems to be holding up so far. Professor Loeb, meanwhile, has raised the question that, given 'Oumuamua's unusual properties and trajectory, could it be artificial in nature? Could 'Oumuamua be a technological object from an extraterrestrial civilization?
In other words, aliens!
Loeb has not backed down. New technologies and tools like the James Webb space telescope have shown that the universe is replete with billions of galaxies and trillions of planets, billions or more of which contain water and other building blocks of life and are in so-called 'goldilocks' zones of habitability, like Earth.
Further, Earth is relatively new as a planet compared to trillions of other planets, and humans are especially new. We homo sapiens are only 300,000 years in the making. The universe, in contrast, is at least 13 billion years old.
Avi Loeb posits that it is likely millions, if not billions, of other alien civilizations either exist or previously existed, and that they likely sent satellites and probes into outer space just as we have done in the last 50+ years.
Space, in other words, might be full of space trash. Old spaceships, probes, satellites, and the like, may have been sent out into the cosmos millions or billions of years ago. Earth (and maybe Mars?), as a rocky planet with abundant water and other life-essential elements and its goldilocks zone of habitability, would be a natural target for curious aliens seeking evidence of life and evidence of intelligent life just as we are doing today.
Then, last year, the US Air Force revealed that they had detected another interstellar object back in 2014, pre-dating 'Oumuamua. A meteor explosion off the coast of Papua New Guinea was detected by satellites. The explosion's yield and brightness betrayed its speed; the meteor was certainly interstellar. Further, its composition (also revealed by the yield and brightness of the explosion) was harder than any known element.
That would make the 2014 meteor the first interstellar object ever detected. It was therefore labeled as IM1 (for Interstellar Meteor 1). 'Oumuamua is now labeled as IM2.
Avi Loeb surmised that IM1 could be extraterrestrial space trash that crashed to Earth. He has since raised several million dollars to lead an expedition to the waters off Papua New Guinea to search for and collect fragments of IM1 from the ocean floor. That expedition is currently underway, and Professor Loeb is maintaining an online blog to keep us updated in real time.
They have so far collected multiple spherules beneath the calculated crash zone of IM1. They each display characteristics consistent with the heat and explosive yield of an interstellar meteor. In other words, the spherules so far appear to be from IM1. Further, preliminary ship-board analyses suggest that the spherules might be – and I stress might be – technological in origin.
If it turns out that more detailed analyses of the current spherules – and, hopefully, more spherules collected over the coming days – are of technological origin, and are also interstellar in nature, then that changes … everything.
It would mean that We Are Not Alone. It would mean that aliens exist. It might also portend that life in the universe is not so rare, and that we humans and our Earth are not so special.
To be continued …