Friday, March 24, 2023

Oumuamua Is Just An "Ordinary Comet" - Harvard Astronomer Avi Loeb Disagrees - And He's Right To Do So


               Oumuamua (artist rendition)  and Harvard's Avi Loeb who suspected an alien artifact

Readers may recall that nearly six years ago, an object roughly the size of a football field baffled planetary scientists as it traversed our solar system. The irregular shape and motion of the object, dubbed ‘Oumuamua, even led one Harvard astronomer (Avi Loeb) to conjecture an artificial, extraterrestrial origin, e.g.

Astronomer Avi Loeb Says Aliens Have Visited, and He's Not Kidding - Scientific American

But this has now been challenged by research published Wednesday in the journal Nature,  e.g.

Acceleration of 1I/‘Oumuamua from radiolytically produced H2 in H2O ice | Nature

The Cornell postdoc Darryl Seligman concluding:

"Oumuamua is a typical comet that expelled gas in an odd way as it traveled through our solar system. We’ve gone through every weird, crazy, possible theory— ideas that stretch the imagination to match all of these observed things, and then we figure out that it is just the simplest thing you could possibly imagine, which is just a water-rich comet,”

Astronomers first spotted ‘Oumuamua at an observatory in Hawaii in October 2017. It passed by the sun at speeds of nearly 196,000 miles an hour. The body’s trajectory indicated that it arrived from distant stars, having likely traveled for many millions of years before arriving in our system.  

Observatories around the globe had barely weeks to gather enough data to try to identify the nature of the interloper before it continued on to the greater Milky Way. No satisfactory explanation or hypothesis was ever provided though Harvard's Avi Loeb conjectured it was most likely an artifact from an extraterrestrial civilization. This emerged in his co-authored paper appearing in   Astrophysical Journal Letters  in November.  2020.   

The blowback from peers was as fierce as if he'd co-authored a paper on UFOs as opposed to a trans-stellar object or artifact  powered by solar radiant energy. For example, Paul M. Stutter, an astrophysicist at Ohio State University,  shortly after the paper was published,  tweeted    

 'Oumuamua is not an alien spaceship, and the authors of the paper insult honest scientific inquiry to even suggest it,"

Whoa!  Says who?  Honest scientific inquiry would, in fact, include all reasonable hypotheses including the extraterrestrial one - just as I included in my paper published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada e.g.

Transient Optical Phenomena of the Atmosphere - a Case Study

Concerning an object reported by a founder member of the Barbados Astronomical Society.   Let me also add it isn't impossible for a genuine scientist - astronomer, physicist or other -  to stretch his mind to get beyond the "ET phobia".  After all the late planetary astronomer Carl Sagan  - once a debunker of the idea of UFOs as extraterrestrial craft-  did finally come around to accepting the validity in a one-on-one with Northwestern University astronomer J. Allen Hynek, e.g.

Excerpt:  "The pillar of modern space science Dr. Carl Sagan revealed to Dr. J. Allen Hynek, that he knew UFOs were real but could not talk publicly about the matter and possibly risk the loss of academic funding."

Perhaps the best explanation for all this recent dodging, dismissing and aversion by so-called scientists was provided in a paper published some years ago in the journal Political Theory by Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall, viz.

Sovereignty and the UFO - Alexander Wendt, Raymond Duvall, 2008

 Therein they noted the phenomenon of the UFO (or any ET hypothesis)  tends to be rejected as real because it comes up against the human concept of state sovereignty.  In effect, to admit the reality of the UFO as an alien craft would directly challenge this comforting codswallop, engendering enormous cosmic uncertainty and rejection of the fake techno superiority meme.   

 This is also exactly why "stigmas"  arise associated with UFO research or claims/admissions of their reality.  In a word, those  skeptical responses amount to an elaborate defense mechanism for egocentric humans, including too many astronomers.  

Let's now return to the Nature paper and the take of another co-author, Jennifer Bergner, an astrochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. According to Jennifer, "Oumuamua is in fact a comet that was restructured during its long journey".

The object, according to her, was born in another solar system but made its way into ours. In that other solar system it was a "normal" comet made of ice, but then changed its identity over its long sojourn.   How did it change? Well, as the comet traveled through interstellar space toward our part of the Milky Way, it was struck by cosmic rays. The radiation from those cosmic rays then separated the hydrogen from some of the comet’s ice-forming water molecules. That hydrogen then became trapped inside tiny pockets within the ice deep inside Oumuamua.   But we're not done yet.   

Bergner goes on to argue in the paper that once ‘Oumuamua approached the Sun, the heat from our star rearranged its icy structure.  This led to the collapse of those tiny ice pockets and then the formation of channels within the ice through which trapped gas escaped to the comet’s surface and accelerated it.

Why resort to this contrived explanation? Well because Oumuamua was being propelled by forces beyond the gravity of the Sun or planets.   Therefore a "non-gravitational" hypothesis was needed.  It's also known that  nongravitational forces are observed in typical comets.  Thus, the closer a comet gets to the sun and heats up, the more of its ice transitions into gas—creating its tail while changing its motion in space. This process is known as outgassing.  But is it really enough to generate the acceleration observed? I'm not convinced and neither is Avi Loeb.  

The Harvard astronomer posited in multiple papers (e.g. see above) and a book that its odd acceleration could be because it is a piece of alien technology. (Not necessarily inhabited, in fact, unlikely to be). Dr. Loeb also has said he takes issue with the authors’ characterization of ‘Oumuamua as a "typical comet.'  Noting:

 “It must be a very unusual comet if it is a comet at all,” 

I totally agree, especially given the convoluted explanation by the authors of how it altered its original "normal" comet form in transiting to our solar system. As one who always looks at the simpler of of 2 or more competing hypotheses first, Dr. Loeb's beats the Nature authors' version hands down.

Dr. Loeb said the topic of extraterrestrial intelligence remains taboo among his astronomy colleagues. And he is correct, for the reasons I gave earlier. Which is a pity because they all are blinded to the Occam's Razor alternative of Loeb's simpler hypothesis which their emotions cause them to avoid.

Thankfully, Dr. Loeb said he continues to explore the idea that ‘Oumuamua is, for example, a piece of alien technology that harnesses the pressure of sunlight to move.


 See Also:

Why Harvard's Top Astronomer (Avi Loeb) Is Wrong About UFOs - And Indeed Is Doing UFO Research Himself 

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