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Things We Saw Today: Harvard’s Top Astronomer Is Causing an Alien Hubbub

Artist's impression of 'Oumuamua

Avi Loeb, the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department, has sparked excitement and ruffled the feathers of his peers with the suggestion that an alien ship could be sailing past Jupiter.

As The Washington Post reports, Loeb, a prominent astronomer in his field, has introduced the idea that the first known interstellar object, spotted in 2017 and dubbed ‘Oumuamua (Hawaiian for “Scout”), might be technology from another civilization.

What you can’t call Loeb is a crank. When astronomers in Hawaii stumbled across the first known interstellar object in late 2017 — a blip of light moving so fast past the sun that it could only have come from another star — Loeb had three decades of Ivy League professorship and hundreds of astronomical publications on his résumé, mostly to do with the nature of black holes and early galaxies and other subjects far from any tabloid shelf. […]

“Considering an artificial origin, one possibility is that ‘Oumuamua” — pronounced Oh-mooah-mooah — “is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment,” Loeb wrote with his colleague Shmuel Bialy in Astrophysical Journal Letters in November — thrilling E.T. enthusiasts and upsetting the fragile orbits of space academia.

The Post article spends some time with the animated Loeb and the range of reactions to the lightsail theory. If you love the idea of aliens, as do I, when someone credible in their field suggests aliens could be close(ish) at hand, it feels thrilling.

And am I the only one who thought of the DS9 episode “Explorers” with the old Bajoran legend that Ben Sisko decided to test out with Jake by building a lightship? Hopefully there are no Cardassians solar sailing that light fantastic.

Wikipedia has this to tell us about ʻOumuamua:

ʻOumuamua is tumbling, rather than smoothly rotating, and is moving so fast relative to the Sun that there is no chance it originated in the Solar System. It also means that ʻOumuamua cannot be captured into a solar orbit, so it will eventually leave the Solar System and resume traveling through interstellar space. ʻOumuamua’s system of origin and the amount of time it has spent traveling amongst the stars are unknown.

I … love it? I feel teary-eyed about an interstellar object? Me right now:

Aliens meme

(via The Washington Post, image: “Artist’s Impression of ‘Oumuamua“)

  • “This dinosaur had a mohawk of horns.” Aliens and dinosaurs—today is a good day. (via The Atlantic)
  • Here’s the trailer for the next DC animated movie, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. (via Comicbook)
  • The legendary Rita Moreno has some notes for the upcoming West Side Story script. (via Vanity Fair)
  • Watching the TV show YOU without Joe’s narration is disconcerting, to say the least. (via TVLine)
  • Wow. Wow. Wow:

What did you see out there today, lightsailors?

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.

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