On February 13, 1633, the Roman Inquisition found the astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei “vehemently suspect of heresy” for his observation that the Earth revolved around the Sun. He and forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The inquisition concluded that heliocentrism was “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture.”
Fast forward to October 2018, not unsimilar to Galileo’s intrepid observation, Avi Loeb, then the chair of Harvard’s astronomy department, co-wrote a paper that examined the “peculiar acceleration” of a strange disk-like object that entered our Solar System, and proposed that it “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth’s vicinity by an alien civilization.” Loeb has long been interested in the search for extraterrestrial life, reports The New Yorker, recently making further headlines by suggesting that we might communicate with the civilization that sent the probe. “If these beings are peaceful, we could learn a lot from them,” he told Der Spiegel.
Here are four in-depth reviews of the unrepentant Loeb’s bold hypothesis and his new book, published this month, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.
Have We Already Been Visited by Aliens? asks Elizabeth Kolbert for The New Yorker. –“The more they looked, the more puzzling its behavior seemed. The object was small, with an area roughly that of a city block. As it tumbled through space, its brightness varied so much—by a factor of ten—that it had to have a very odd shape. Either it was long and skinny, like a cosmic cigar, or flat and round, like a celestial pizza. Instead of swinging around the sun on an elliptical path, it was zipping away more or less in a straight line. The bright dot, astronomers concluded, was something never before seen. It was an “interstellar object”—a visitor from far beyond the solar system that was just passing through.”
Did an Alien Life-Form Do a Drive-By of Our Solar System in 2017? Asks Dennis Overbye for The New York Times. ““Extraterrestrial,” which is part graceful memoir and part plea for keeping an open mind about the possibilities of what is out there in the universe — in particular, life. Otherwise, he says, we might miss something amazing, like the church officials in the 17th century who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope.”
Have Aliens Found Us? Asks Isaac Chotiner for The New Yorker. –A Harvard Astronomer on the Mysterious Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua. “When it was discovered,” Loeb told Chotiner, “we realized it spins every eight hours, and its brightness changed by at least a factor of ten. The fact that its brightness varies by a factor of ten as it spins means that it is at least ten times longer than it is wide. We don’t have a photo, but, in all the artists’ illustrations that you have seen on the Web, it looks like a cigar. That’s one possibility. But it’s also possible that it’s a pancake-like geometry, and, in fact, that is favored.”
“Sent By an Alien World?” –Extraterrestrial Object Visited Our Solar System in 2017 “The idea of the existence of advanced extraterrestrial life is no more speculative than extra dimensions or dark matter. It fact, he says, it is less so,” says Harvard astrophysicist, Avi Loeb. In November of 2018, The Daily Galaxy reported: “You would have thought it was 1938 again following Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds the way the way Twitter lit up last week when the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department, Israel-born theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, suggested that an alien spaceship was possibly on its way to Earth to study humankind, and probably had Stephen Hawking spinning in his grave.”
Avi Shporer, formerly a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).currently with the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research
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