We may have just found the first proof that alien life exists.
Ok this is about space, aliens, theories of advanced technology, and the power of wonder. I’ve just had this stuck in my head this week, and I was wanting to right something about it, but it’s not property, it’s not makets, it’s not persuasion.
Where do I put it?
Of course. No B.S Friday. Because this is about being grateful for this wonderful strange old universe we’re living in.
So this all started about a week ago when someone sent this article about some weird asteroid to me.
So I had a look. I’m always wary about crack-pot theories about space on the internet, so I scroll down to see who wrote it.
Chair of the Astronomy Dept at Harvard. Ok, we’re not talking about some tin-foil hat crank then. This is science!
And what’s he writing about? The first ‘interstellar’ object ever discovered.
On October 19, 2017, the first interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua, was discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey. The experience was similar to having a surprise guest for dinner show up from another country.
They weren’t looking for it. They just happened across it. It was an asteroid, they think, but not one of those common ones that are trapped in our solar system. But one travelling between the stars, boldly going where no asteroid has gone before.
And it shot right through our solar system and out the other side.
But that’s not exactly right either. It’s more that our solar system, which is actually traveling quite fast, sailed right on past ‘Oumuamua, which was sort of stationary.
And this is where things start to get a bit weird:
‘Oumuamua is like a buoy sitting at rest on the surface of the ocean, with the solar system running into it like a fast ship. Could there be an array of buoys that serves as a network of relay stations or road posts, defining the average galactic frame of reference in interstellar space?
Now I’m starting to wonder if this is a spoof. But it’s on the blog of Scientific American. As far as I can see, it’s legit.
But it gets even weirder:
We do not have a photo of ‘Oumuamua, but its brightness owing to reflected sunlight varied by a factor of 10 as it rotated periodically every eight hours. This implies that ‘Oumuamua has an extreme elongated shape with its length at least five to 10 times larger than its projected width. The inferred shape is more extreme than for all asteroids previously seen in the solar system, which have a length-to-width ratio of at most three.
… The Spitzer Space Telescope did not detect any heat in the form of infrared radiation from ‘Oumuamua. Given the surface temperature dictated by ‘Oumuamua’s trajectory near the sun, this sets an upper limit on its size of hundreds of meters. Based on this size limit, ‘Oumuamua must be unusually shiny, with a reflectance that is at least 10 times higher than exhibited by solar system asteroids.
… The extra push exhibited by ‘Oumuamua’s orbit could not have originated from a breakup into pieces because such an event would have provided a single, impulsive kick, unlike the continuous push that was observed. If cometary outgassing is ruled out and the inferred excess force is real, only one possibility remains: an extra push due to radiation pressure from the sun. In order for this push to be effective, ‘Oumuamua needs to be less than a millimeter thick but with a size of at least 20 meters (for a perfect reflector), resembling a lightsail of artificial origin. In this case ‘Oumuamua would resemble the solar sail demonstrated by the Japanese mission IKAROS or the lightsail contemplated for the Starshot initiative…
Let me get this right, Abe. We found this weird object in space, that is most probably less than a millimetre thick and at least 20 metres long, but possible a couple of hundred metres long..?
And it’s just sitting there?
The Kepler satellite revealed that about a quarter of all the stars in the Milky Way have a habitable planet of the size of the Earth, with the potential to have liquid water on its surface and the chemistry of life as we know it. It is therefore conceivable that interstellar space is full of artificially made debris, either in the form of devices that serve a purpose on a reconnaissance mission or in the form of defunct equipment. However, to validate an exotic artificial origin for ‘Oumuamua, we need more data. As Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
I don’t really have anything to say about this. I’m not an astronomer and the opinions of an amateur philosopher aren’t really useful.
But I just wanted to share the sense of wonder that I felt. The way my mind spins beautifully when I imagine intergalactic civilisations leaving strange sign-posts just floating around in the cosmos.
The sum of human knowledge is still just a drop in the Ocean. There is still so much we don’t know.
And when we look at all the problems we face right now, that is comforting. We’re making a mess of things at the moment, but of course, we are. We don’t know anything about how the universe works, or what or who else is out there.
It drops me back into humility and wonder.
And I think we all need that from time to time.