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Guest: Dr. Avi Loeb; Topics: Interstellar objects, extraterrestrial life, Oumuamua, science, artificial versus natural object, light sail technology, Starshot, and much more.
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We welcomed Dr. Avi Loeb of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to the show for a one hour discussion regarding the fast moving interstellar objected discovered in Oct. 2017 and named Oumuamua. Much of our discussion was based on published papers by Dr. Loeb such as "Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain 'Oumuamua's' Peculiar Acceleration"? and "Identifying Interstellar Objects Trapped in the Solar System through Their Orbital Parameters." I urge you to read these papers by Dr. Loeb and his respective co-authors. In addition, you can read the article "Mysterious 'extraterrestrial artefacts' could be lurking in our solar system, Harvard astronomers claim." This article was written by Jasper Hamill on Nov. 28, 2018. You can find it here: https://metro.co.uk/2018/11/28/mysterious-alien-artefacts-could-be-lurking-in-our-solar-system-astronomer-claims-8185768.
We started our discussion with Professor Loeb by his talking about the scientific approach he took to examining this fast moving interstellar object now identified as Oumuamua. He spent time with us going through the technical, mathematical, and scientific data that led him to his conclusions but in the end, he talked about scientists needing substantially more data to understand this object. Dr. Loeb then talked about the difficulty in getting more data specific to Oumuamua because it is now so far away we can't get more from it and we have no technology to chase it. In fact, you will hear him talk about the need for advanced propulsion for chasing such objects in the future to get more data including images and clear pictures. Note that he said that chemical propulsion would not work and even nuclear propulsion would be limited depending on where the object might be and its actual speed.
During this technical discussion, our guest put forth the mathematical and scientific information that was discovered about this object plus he compared it to similar types of data we have from comets and asteroids, all of which led him to believe that Oumuamua might be artificial in origin. Don't miss this excellent discussion regarding this fast moving interstellar object. Please take note of what this may mean going forward because if we can validate this object or others similar to it as being artificial, then our search for extraterrestrial life takes on an entirely new shape and focus compared to what we have been looking for per example on Mars. In fact, later in our program, I asked our guest a very similar question regarding our search for life off Earth. Don't miss what he said about it.
Another point that Dr. Loeb made as our discussion moved forward was that the astronomy and scientific communities were caught off guard by Oumuamua's sudden appearance and were not prepared to track it, follow it, study it until it was almost too late. He explained how everyone was surprised and why he believes that won't happen again given everyone is keen on finding more of these fast moving interstellar objects and now looking for them. In addition, Oumuamua was discovered by the unlikely PAN-STARRS1 Survey. Dr. Loeb noted that the new Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will soon be on line and it will be far more capable in detecting these fast moving interstellar objects and collecting substantially more data including pictures. Scientists and astronomers will be ready when the next such interstellar object enters our solar system. In fact, as you will hear our guest say, it might be possible to pick up such an unusual object before it gets to our solar system. He explained this during our discussion so don't miss it.
We had a call from Dr. Jurist and we received multiple listener emails. During the Jurist call which was technical, they talked about the object spin rate, outgassing, what they learned from the Spitzer telescope and the object speeds. While parts of the call were technical, don't miss it as it added much to our discussion. Emails were on a variety of topics. For example, one listener wanted to know that if we could determine the purpose of the object were it proven to be artificial. Another listener wanted to know if we had the technology to determine if it was "examining us" either passively or actively. Yet another listener wanted to know if we now had or might soon have through the Breakthrough Starshot program the technology to launch a similar interstellar probe of our own. Our guest had much to say in response to these questions, the Starshot project, traveling near the speed of light and more. One question near the end of the program from Todd in San Diego wanted to know what it would take to develop slow down technology so that as our interstellar probe was zooming by or even approaching the destination object, say Proxima B, could we slow it down to take photos or even go into orbit to study the planet. Don't miss how Avi responded to that question.
One frequent topic of discussion during our hour with Avi was scientific bias, basing ideas and even research on "gut feelings" and the need to be open minded, evidenced based, and flexible. He said this was a problem in science. He suggested such science was a problem in the community. Listen to him for these comments and let us know what you think by posting on our blog.
Dr. Loeb provided us with great closing comments as well as a discussion of constant 1 g acceleration and what that would mean were we able to sustain it for a year. Included in his summary was a focus on collecting additional data which we certainly need regarding these fast moving interstellar objects. In addition, don't miss what he said about his thinking that we are not particularly special in the universe along with having the opportunity to be a scientist.
Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog. You can reach Dr. Loeb through his Harvard faculty page or me.