TechHarvard's Avi Loeb on space visitors: Are we ready for them?

Harvard's Avi Loeb on space visitors: Are we ready for them?

Prof. Avi Loeb
Prof. Avi Loeb
Images source: © Licensor | Jake Belcher
7:09 AM EDT, May 12, 2024

Prof. Avi Loeb, a Harvard University researcher known as one of the most provocative figures in astrophysics, recently shared with WP Tech his thoughts on the possibility of alien visitation to our Solar System. He also reflected on what our first encounter with extraterrestrial beings might look like. "If they find us before we discover them, they're likely to be far more advanced, and therefore, we wouldn't pose any threat. Learning from their science and technology could significantly fast-track our own advancement," he observes.

Engaged in the quest for extraterrestrial life and the study of cosmology, Prof. Loeb regularly presents theories that stir both interest and skepticism among his peers. Nevertheless, he remains dedicated to uncovering evidence of alien civilizations and posits that it's within the realm of possibility they have already brushed past our Solar System.

Loeb points to three objects of interest: meteor IM1, `Oumuamua, and comet Borisov. He recalls the first object, approximately half a meter in size, which collided with Earth in 2014, detected by U.S. government satellite sensors. "It moved faster than 95% of the stars in proximity to the Sun and demonstrated superior material strength to iron meteorites, disintegrating only upon entering the lower layers of our atmosphere," he highlighted.

The second object, `Oumuamua, measured about 650 feet across and was identified in 2017 by the Pan-STARRS survey telescope in Hawaii. According to Loeb, its unusual, likely flat shape and how it was propelled away from the Sun—without the typical signs of evaporation seen in comets—distinguished it. The third, the interstellar comet Borisov, was discovered in 2019 by amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov and features a core several hundred meters in length.

Loeb believes that the scientific pursuit of such objects could reveal whether the interstellar objects passing through our space are mere space rocks or if they include technological debris from other civilizations beyond what humanity has launched into space.

Encounters with alien civilizations

The search for even the simplest forms of life beyond Earth is challenging, as demonstrated by NASA's ongoing explorations on Mars, a planet that continues to conceal many mysteries. Uncovering evidence of alien civilizations is daunting, yet the implications of such discoveries are profound. "Encountering a more advanced civilization could be likened to meeting a smarter being in our cosmic neighborhood, presenting a unique learning opportunity," Prof. Loeb conjectures. He further supports the potential role of artificial intelligence in this quest, suggesting that AI could help us decipher alien languages in a manner reminiscent of Alan Turing's work on decoding the Nazi's Enigma code during World War II.

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