Shortly before Halloween, the President of the Harvard Astronomical Department openly stated that an interstellar object that plunges our solar system can be part of an extraterrestrial craft. And then … crickets.
Astrophysical blog Centauri Dreams broke the story of cognoscenti three days later. He delivered an informed survey of an academic document that caused this unfortunate possibility, complete with quotes and commentary from Avi Loeb, the author (and well-known presidency). It was until November before stores like CNN, Time, and Washington Post lifted the story, full of inevitable sarcastic quotes and cruel captions. Object named "Oumuamua, had a number of strange and seemingly contradictory traits; it might be that these characteristics appear as they do, because our observation was not so great. There are other options.
I read Loeb's paper – which was then quickly accepted for the respected publication Astrophysical Journal. A few days later we and Loeb sat down on the longest and – according to my own Loeb account – the most important and deeper interview she had on the subject. Embedded audio player behind the colon at the end just this sentence contains an hour-ith adjustment, including all the most important:
If you are not in a spoken word, we have the transcript available as plain text as well as PDF (which is easier to read).
"I'm not saying they're aliens but …"
Avi Loeb unambiguously recognizes one of the most astounding claims in astronomy. This, of course, requires extraordinary evidence – a requirement from which Loeb's fantasy professional title does not have any exceptions. But we should also avoid reversed knee reactions that resemble: "Just because Harvard's astronomy president says could to be a foreign vessel does not mean it Yippee one; and in fact it means is not one because of irony! Oh, and of course, laughter. "
My conversation with Loeb should not solve this debate in favor of foreigners for you, for me or for someone (Loeb himself needs a lot more evidence to come anywhere closer to solving the case). But the story of Oumuamu is inherently fascinating. As astronomers can not learn, they can learn something or three things about how the universe works. If you go down this path, you should keep in mind that foreign technology has been considered, eventually decreasing as an explanation for many astronomical phenomena. "Oumuamua will probably definitely join this list one day, but we will learn a lot by persecuting leaders – both astronomical and curious outsiders who follow this process.
If you listen to our conversation (or read our probably-OK-ish transcript), you will understand this conversation at a lower level than most people who are talking about it. A really great thing? For the reasons we discussed at the end of our interview, the big questions here could be dramatically resolved as soon as an important new telescope appears in 2022.
For those in a hurry, I will now provide an overview of our interview that is interrupted by time stamps that will help you zip to parts that you are most interested in.
There's something about Oumuamue
Our story begins on October 19th of last year (on time stamp 07:55 from the above talk if you want to listen to more details than those included in this short listing). This is when the object that becomes "Oumuamu" was first recorded by the Hawaiian Pan-STARRS system, which monitors and detects objects near Earth.
Astronomers soon proved that "Oumuamu traveled too fast to be bound to our Sun, which meant that it originated in a distant stellar system, making it the first interstellar object definitively identified within our solar system." The astronomical community, that a large amount of hardware appeared in the outflow. "Masses of observation data were obtained before" Oumuamua disappeared from view in January.
"Oumuamua was bizarre on several fronts from the raid. Interestingly, he travels to the" local resting level "(time stamp 15:36) among our local stars. For the reasons explained by Loeb, it's a fascinating attribute – and unlikely (though impossible) the kind of natural object.
In June (time stamp 23:22), Nature issued a rigorous analysis of the Oumuamu trajectory. Her authors found – with 30 standard deviations of confidence – that the object accelerated as it retreated from the Sun. This was interpreted as evidence that it was a comet, rather than an asteroid (another probable candidate). Comets are generally accelerating in this way, driven by solar-emitted gases that create signature tails.
Several observations, however, contradicted it. (time stamp 25:44). For example, no tail has ever been seen on Oumuamu. It was not a coma (comet is a fuzzy head). There was no sign of water on it, and the comets usually carry water. And "Oumuamu's surface reflectivity was far beyond the bounds of comets.
These and other peculiarities can be explained or justified. But for Loebe, the last straw was a September book written by Roman Rafikov of Cambridge University (time stamp 28:39). He argues that "Oumuamu's centrifugal velocity (which was quite desperate – another peculiarity) remained constant throughout the observation range, while degassing would significantly disrupt the flow.
Loeb came to the conclusion that the degassing could not cause the acceleration of the Oumuamu, he considered alternative forces and settled on what astronomers understood better: the radiation pressure emanating from the sun, but it was much weaker than exhaustion If it were responsible, "Oumuamu would have to be far less than expected by a quarter of kilometers plus miles of rock astronomers. Specifically, Loeb docked him as small as 20 meters in diameter. And here's the pliers – thicker than a millimeter.
Near encounters of any kind or other
No known natural process can cause remote so much thin space. But it sounds terrible like a sunshade. And Loeb spent many long hours modeling the sunscreen physics to help guide Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Starshot project (timestamp 18:55). Yes, the cliché of the hammer-owners of nail nail errors are immediately slipping and Loeb recognizes it (30:07). But hammerers were also known to identify nails exactly.
The most exotic option was confiscated by Loeb's paper (33:55) is that "Oumuamu was on a targeted reconnaissance mission (it does not necessarily separate the Earth, but may ordinarily drive residential areas of the star systems), based on older calculations relative to the relative amount of interstellar objects and other factors.
Loeb and I then discuss the online archive where he and his co-author, postdoctoral colleague Shmuel Bialy, initially placed their contribution (36:58) and unusual speeds with which Astrophysical Journal both were adopted and published (40:35). Then I present Loeb with the strikes of some of his critics,44:51). This leads to a discussion of Loeb's philosophy about the roles and responsibilities of academic staff.
We close the fascinating prospect that an extensive telescope debut in 2022 could quickly respond to questions that would evade current hardware (56:56). This returns to a number of interstellar objects like Oumuamu. If so scarce as the calculations previously suggested, more powerful new devices will only show a small handful of new ones. But if they are sufficiently common for Oumuamu to not be surprised, the new telescope should quickly find thousands of them.
This argument is too involved to be fully explored here (I am a subcaster, not a journalist). So I invite you to listen to this section. But all this gives Loeb's controversial explanation the date of sale, and this date is only a few years.
Personally, I can not wait for the events to come. Listen to this section and know basic issues like me. Though thin, there is at least little chance that 2022 will bring harshly suggestive evidence that "Oumuamu is an artificial monument, and regardless of the outcome, would not it be nice to follow this story of how it unfolds?
This interview is the latest episode of my After On podcast. If you like, you can find a full archive of your episodes on my site or through your favorite podcast app by searching under "Turn on". The broader series is based on deep interviews with thinkers, founders and world-class scientists and tends to be technically and scientifically difficult.