The first known interstellar object to visit our solar system, 1I/2017 U1 ‘Oumuamua, was discovered Oct. 19, 2017 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood. While originally classified as a comet, observations revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9, 2017 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second). It was briefly classified as an asteroid until new measurements found it was accelerating slightly, a sign it behaves more like a comet.
The second image is to make you think. Given one of our very powerful telescopes that faint dot circled in the center is all we ever saw of Oumuamua. With our computational tools we could detect that it was accelerating and get an idea of the surface composition but the data we collected was negligible (though also amazing given the distance and velocity of this objectively tiny object.)
Extraterrestrial: On ‘Oumuamua as Artifact
by PAUL GILSTER on FEBRUARY 23, 2021
The reaction to Avi Loeb’s new book Extraterrestrial (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021) has been quick in coming and dual in nature. I’m seeing a certain animus being directed at the author in social media venues frequented by scientists, not so much for suggesting the possibility that ‘Oumuamua is an extraterrestrial technological artifact, but for triggering a wave of misleading articles in the press. The latter, that second half of the dual reaction, has certainly been widespread and, I have to agree with the critics, often uninformed.
The article in CentauriDreams, as always excellent, discusses the reaction to the book which is very much in line with the arguments of the book itself.
The author of the Book a Harvard Astronomer of high repute, says that the data actually points to Oumuamua being an artifact and that since that theory best fits the data…then it is/was an extraterrestrial visitor. He then goes on review other theories and the way that the science community came together to present a ‘consensus’ that was more about PR and making the life of the average person in the broad community of sky explorers easier rather than doing the hard work of explaining multiple theories and sets of data that left the question very open and leaving a starkly amazing option in play.
Essentially this is about the science and the science community but also about Journalism in its debauched epoch. Many of us grew up with science being pushed as a noble, maybe the last noble, adventure. With heroes and a few villains. Heroes of the mind and of letters and video who didn’t get shot at or mugged or even have to live rough. Carl Sagan, Attenborough, many other names come to mind.
The problem is that these men and women were scientists, academics, with deep knowledge, if often deeply attached to one trope, and great communicators. Far too many of those who followed were/are attached to a trope and its alignment with their desired outcome. Without the background/willingness to understand that even the most beautiful theory may be utterly wrong and always HAS to be able to stand up to any counter evidence presented.
Also the scientific community, once quite a small community is now huge, with all the pressures of a large bureaucratic endeavor to go along to get along; careerism; group think; cliques; etc. And especially in ‘charismatic’ endeavors like space the pressure is to be ‘in the consensus’ and ‘never be caught wrong footed in the lime light.’