He thinks that its abnormal shape acted like “a sail on a boat because, in the vacuum of space, a large, thin object can be accelerated by sunlight”. And he wonders if ‘Oumuamua had an advanced “sun-sail” that an extra-terrestrial civilization could use to travel through space. This outlandish idea was shut down by the academic establishment from the get-go. 

So far, the consensus reached to explain the extra push that ‘Oumuamua displayed as it broke free of the sun’s gravitational hold was that it was a comet accelerating due to its melting water vapor, as expelling thrusts a rocket forward. The only problem with this theory – and it’s a glaringly obvious one – is that no tail of water vapor was ever detected coming off ‘Oumuamua.

In September last year, another space object showed acceleration without having a comet-like water vapor tail. Astronomers were again perplexed, and after running the data of its trajectory through a super-computer it was found to be “artificial in construction”.  Scientists declared that it was the empty hull of a discarded rocket booster from earth.

The thin hollow shape was collecting solar rays and being accelerated, just as Professor Loeb had suggested was the cause of ‘Oumuamua’s unconventional movements.

This adds to the mystery of ‘Oumuamua. As Professor Loeb explained, “It could not have been of human construction because of the particular way it passed through the solar system, faster than any rocket we could launch.” But he goes on to admit that to fully validate ‘Oumuamua is of artificial origin, “we need more data”.

So an object of artificial design, a rocket –acted the same way Oumuamua did and there are scientists that reject the possibility it could be of artificial design as well.

It just shows how picky and arbitrary some scientists can be.

Professor Loeb advises that academia should begin the kind of “blue-sky research” seen in the commercial sector in companies such as Apple, SpaceX, and Amazon. He sees “conservatism in academia”, meaning that projects that tackle alien intelligence rarely get public funding, but rely on investment by interested private individuals. 

The mainstream consensus in searching for extra-terrestrial life is to look for signs of oxygen. However, Professor Loeb disputes this, saying it will lead to inconclusive results, “as oxygen could be produced by natural processes”. Instead, he advises searching for industrial pollution on other planets, the rationale being that complex molecules, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), “cannot be produced naturally”.

Professor Loeb is steadfast in his belief, though, arguing that discoveries in any branch of science can happen only when people are open-minded and willing to take risks.


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