In 2017, scientists sighted the first interstellar object, the first thing we definitively know came from outside our solar system… something that was not bound to the gravity pull of our sun. But that was just the beginning of the oddness exhibited by the object known as Oumuamua. It didn’t behave like a comet. It didn’t seem to be made of materials we expect. It was shaped in a way that nothing in nature should be shaped like. And as it curved around our sun, it actually accelerated in a way that we couldn’t account for by the laws of physics. In his new book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, which comes out Avi Loeb, Harvard’s top Astronomer, argues that Oumuamua was most likely an alien craft, or artifact of some kind. It likely had some sort of solar sail mechanism, and actually, suggests it might be functioning as some sort of interstellar buoy. We’re going to get into that in this episode, but stay to the end, because forget small satellites, do you know we could shoot a super small probe, about the size of a small satellite, attached to a solar sail and pushed by a laser right now, today? Humanity could reach another star for the first time in just 20 years… in all of our lifetimes, and we could get the data and pictures back within 24 years. Avi is working on this with the backing of Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg among others. So, come for Oumuamua, and stay for the crazy space project that, in my opinion, should be the one we all band together to pursue.
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Avi Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. He was Former Chair (2011-2020) of the Department of Astronomy; Founding Director of Harvard's Black Hole Initiative; and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (ITC).
He also chairs the Advisory Committee for the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative, serves as the Science Theory Director for all Initiatives of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, and holds the Sackler Senior Professorship by Special Appointment at Tel Aviv University. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the International Academy of Astronautics, as well as Vice Chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. Within Harvard, Loeb serves on the President's Task Force on Diversity and Belonging, the Provost's Allston Academic Planning Committee, and the FAS Dean's Faculty Resources Advisory Committee.