“Interstellar Rock or God-Like Alien Technology?” –Doubts About ‘Oumuamua’ Visit Linger

Oumuamua Interstellar Object


“AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else. —Eliezer Yudkowsky, research fellow, Machine Intelligence Research Institute. “Within the next 50 or 100 years, an AI might know more than the entire population of the planet. At that point, AI will control almost every connected device on the planet — will somehow rise in status to become more like a god, according to the leading experts on the future of artificial intelligence.”

Switching from our mortal, Earthly future to a possible cosmic reality, Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, writing in his Scientific American blog, observes that “it would be shocking to learn all at once of the discoveries of an alien civilization that been doing scientific and technological exploration for billions of years, in contrast to our mere few centuries. Loeb goes on to observe that Arthur C. Clarke codified this idea in the third of his three laws : “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Or, put another way, from God.

Encountering a piece of advanced technology developed by an extraterrestrial intelligence “might resemble an imaginary encounter of ancient cave people with a modern cell phone,” says Loeb. “At first, we would interpret it as a shiny rock, not recognizing it as a communication device. The same thing might have happened in reaction to the first detection of an interstellar visitor to the solar system, ‘Oumuamua, which showed six peculiar properties but was nevertheless interpreted as a rock by mainstream astronomers.”

Back in October, Loeb published a study explaining how aliens can travel throughout the galaxy on the backs of everything from meteoroids to space dust. “Our paper considers the possibility that life could be transported across the entire Milky Way galaxy and beyond,” Loeb said. “The solar system acts as a gravitational ‘fishing net’ that contains thousands of bound interstellar objects of this size at any given time. These bound interstellar objects could potentially plant life from another planetary system and in the solar system.”

All hell broke loose when Loeb followed up with a new paper suggesting that the interstellar object we know as Oumuamua might be a spaceship, a lightsail, from an alien civilization.”

“Interstellar Postmortem” –The Oumuamua Spitzer Space-Telescope Observation Team’s Conclusions

Loeb has spent much of his amazing career searching for alien life. In addition to his myriad Harvard hats (Director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), he’s the chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee, a $100 million initiative that is currently listening for signs of aliens.

To refresh your memory on the backstory: about a year ago, scientists using some of the biggest telescopes on earth detected an odd oblong-shaped mystery object floating through space. They said the interstellar asteroid is like nothing that’s been seen in the solar system before, with an “extreme oblong shape” that’s as much as 10 times as long as it is wide. ‘Oumuamua was discovered Oct. 19 using the Pan-STARRS telescope, which is operated near the summit of Maui’s Haleakala volcano by the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.

The dim object was spotted as it traveled through the inner solar system, at a distance of about 19 million miles from Earth, but an analysis of its trajectory suggests that it came in from a place far beyond the solar system, somewhere in the constellation Lyra, heading towards the constellation Pegasus.

Named Oumuamua, Hawaiian for “Messenger from Afar”, it’s believed to be the first interstellar object observed passing through our solar system. Many tried listening to it, to see if they could determine what it was. Was it a shard from an ancient asteroid, a weird comet? Or was it something else?

Because it would likely be relatively small, most advanced alien equipment, says Loeb, “could only be recognized in the darkness of space when it comes close enough to our nearest lamppost, the sun. We can search for technological “keys” under this lamppost, but most of them will stay unnoticed if they pass far away. More fundamentally, one may wonder whether we are able to recognize technologies that were not already developed by us. After all, these technologies might feature subtle purposes—like the cell phone communication signals that a cave person would miss.”

One can imagine, continues Loeb, “a probe that brought the seeds of life in the form of microbes or instead a 3-D printer that produced these seeds out of the raw materials on Earth based on a prescribed blueprint. The universal left-handedness (chirality) of all life-forms on Earth without exception can be interpreted as stemming from a single panspermia event, be it natural (through a rock arriving from space) or artificial in origin.”

End of Human Epoch –“An AI God Will Emerge to Rule the Human Species”

Could the Oumuamua object have been an unrecognized alien machine technology, as Loeb speculates? Susan Schneider of the University of Connecticut and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton is one of the few thinkers—outside the realm of science fiction— that have considered the notion that a super form of artificial intelligence is already out there, and has been for eons. “I do not believe that most advanced alien civilizations will be biological,” Schneider says. “The most sophisticated civilizations will be postbiological, forms of artificial intelligence or alien superintelligence.”

In early November, 2018 The Daily Galaxy -Great Discoveries Channel emailed Avi Loeb: “We’d like to include a quote (of any length) from you on your thoughts about human implications of the Oumuamua “spacecraft” debate. In short, it seems that we are rooting beyond the science for validation of the spacecraft hypothesis. In the rancorous, tribal environment we’re living through, it appears the human species is yearning for validation of intelligent life beyond our fragile Blue Dot.”

Here’s Avi Loeb’s reply:

I was very surprised about the reaction of the media to our paper. We did not have a press release. The paper was submitted for publication ten days ago and posted on the online arXiv at the same time. It was reviewed and accepted for publication within a record time of only a few days. I received positive reactions from distinguished astronomers, such as the Astronomer Royal in the UK, Lord Martin Rees. I am glad to see the excitement about the paper, but it was not written for that purpose. We just followed the standard practice of scientific research.

I prefer not to assign probabilities to the nature of `Oumuamua. e just need to be practical and collect more data on it or other members of its population. The interpretation of existing and future data is my plan for the future.

Attached is a PDF file with some general notes , along with some additional comments below. [View PDF file of article “Harvard Researchers Suggest Interstellar Object Might have been from Alien Civilization”]

It is exciting to live at a time when we have the scientific technology to search for evidence of alien civilizations. The evidence about `Oumuamua is not conclusive but interesting. I will be truly excited once we have conclusive evidence.

`Oumuamua deviates from a trajectory that is solely dictated by the Sun’s gravity. This could have been the result of cometary outgassing, but there is no evidence for a cometary tail around it. Moreover, comets change the period of their spin and no such change was detected for `Oumuamua. The excess acceleration of `Oumuamua was detected at multiple times, ruling out an impulsive kick due to a break up of the object. The only other explanation that comes to mind is the extra force exerted on `Oumuamua by sunlight. In order for it to be effective, `Oumuamua needs to be less than a millimeter in thickness, like a sail. This led us to suggest that it may be a light-sail produced by an alien civilization.

I welcome other proposals, but I cannot think of another explanation for the peculiar acceleration of `Oumuamua.

The response to my paper with my postdoctoral fellow, Shmuel Bialy, has been truly remarkable. We submitted it for publication only a week ago. It was accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters merely three business days later. The attention was created by blogs on Centauri Dreams and Universe Today. But by now, Twitter is humming continuously about it.

Our own civilization is currently engaged in developing the light-sail technology. The solar-sail principle was already demonstrated by the Japanese IKAROS projectand is being developed towards the goal of reaching high speeds by the Starshot project of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, for which I chair the advisory board. It is conceivable that more advanced civilization are using this technology routinely, and this resulted in space debris of the type of `Oumuamua.

Looking ahead, we should search for other interstellar objects in the sky. Such a search would resemble my favorite activity with my daughters when we vacation on a beach, namely examining shells swept ashore from the ocean. Not all shells are the same, and similarly only a fraction of the interstellar objects might be technological debris of alien civilizations. But we should examine anything that enters the Solar System from interstellar space in order to infer the true nature of `Oumuamua or other objects of its mysterious population.

The Daily Galaxy via Scientific American, The Atlantic, and Harvard CfA PDF 


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