In October 2017, astronomers in Hawaii detected something that astronomers had never detected before: an interstellar object passing through our Solar System. Something from out there — really out there — was zipping through our planetary neighborhood at nearly 200,000 miles per hour. Scientists at the University of Hawaii dubbed it “Oumuamua” — Hawaiian for scout. But what was this unexpected and oddly-shaped guest? It was briefly classified as an asteroid until new measurements found it accelerating slightly, a sign that it was behaving more like a comet. But maybe ‘Oumuamua was something else entirely. In a co-authored paper last year, Avi Loeb, a theoretical physicist and the chair of Harvard University’s astronomy department, theorized that ‘Oumuamua is “of artificial origin,” perhaps “a lightsail floating in interstellar space as a debris from advanced technological equipment. … Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization.”

In addition to his aforementioned mentioned academic duties, Professor Loeb is the founding director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative and chairs the advisory committee of the Breakthrough Foundation’s Starshot Initiative. In 2012, Time Magazine selected Professor Loeb as one of the 25 most influential people in space. He is here today to discuss his recent work on federal leadership in science and technology innovation, how to think about the future of space exploration, and of course ‘Oumuamua.

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  1. Taras Coolidge

     Terrific interview; I listened to it twice. 

     It’s interesting that, so far, the most plausible explanation for the interstellar object that scientists in Hawaii have named Oumuamua is also the most implausible: that it’s not a natural object at all, but artificial. 

     But don’t call it “man-made”!

     Of course, the history of discoveries in space that, at first, don’t seem to have a natural explanation tells us that a natural explanation will be found in the end, possibly generating some new science in the process.

    • #1
    • July 21, 2019, at 9:43 AM PDT
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