June 18, 2021


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Review Avi Loeb's book Extra Land - Culture

Review Avi Loeb’s book Extra Land – Culture

Here are the facts: In October 2017, a telescope in Hawaii observed an unusual object that flew through our solar system. It moved in an almost vertical orbit on the plane of the orbits of the Earth and other planets, and gained speed after passing by the sun and vanished in the direction of the constellation Pegasus. It was officially the first object observed whose origin is definitely not in our solar system.

It is unclear what it consists of; Almost all kinds of possibilities are traded among scientists, from stone and metal to the loose accumulation of dust, ice and hydrogen. The light reflected from the object showed strong fluctuations and no typical comet emissions were observed, which is why many astronomers have concluded that it must have been an asteroid. The object was baptized as Hawaiian Oumuamua, which means something like “first scout” and actually indicates that observers felt they were not dealing with a normal celestial body.

Soon an illustration emerged showing the body as a cigar-shaped rock. Since it was only detected when it was actually moving away from the Earth, its shape could only be derived from the fluctuations in the brightness of the light reflected from it. Such an elongated shape could explain these fluctuations by the oscillatory motion of a solid object. So ‘Oumuamua would be a stone, albeit a very special stone.

Due to the object’s characteristics, speculation soon spread that it could be of artificial origin, also because the elongated shape was reminiscent of a spaceship that behaved very similarly in the classic science fiction “An Rama with Rama” by Arthur C. Clark. However, no radio signals were received from the body and there was no other evidence that Oumuamua could be of anomalous origin – until astronomy professor Avi Loeb and postdoctoral physician Shmuel Biali published an article. What stumbled into our solar system, so their thesis was not just a stone or a block of ice, but a solar sail, because it clearly didn’t come from Earth, it must have been built by an extraterrestrial civilization.

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For Loeb, the reason for the great skepticism of his thesis was the frustration of naturalists.

The thesis has attracted a lot of attention since then, because Avi Loeb is not just a crazy researcher, he is a professor of astronomy at Harvard University, an expert in the study of black holes and the author of hundreds of scientific publications. Now, after many interviews, articles and podcasts on the topic, Loeb has written a book on his thesis: “Extraterrestrial. Intelligent Life Beyond Our Planet.” In it, he explains his idea to a wider audience – and settles accounts with skeptical colleagues.

Actually an expert on black holes: Avi Lopes from Harvard University.

(Photo: Olivia Valcinho)

Loeb’s arguments for the solar reef thesis are: Just like the shape of a cigar, it can also be inferred from data indicating that umuamua is tablet-shaped. This possibility has only been rejected by most astronomers, since it is more unlikely than an elongated shape. Overall, the object was unusually shiny, Loeb believed, ten times more than the average asteroid, which roughly corresponds to the brightness of the shiny metal. In addition, Oumuamua doesn’t actually move relative to the Solar System, but rather it floats in space like a buoy: a state that can be explained in a natural way, but is also very unusual.

For Loeb, however, the most important point is the trajectory: As it moves away from the Sun, the object is propelled by an additional force. Nothing unusual, in fact, as many comets are accelerated by evaporation of ice as they approach the sun. But this is precisely what has not been observed with Oumuamua, and its mass could have decreased dramatically, which also did not happen. According to Webb, the simplest explanation: It happened exactly what the solar sails were made for – they capture sunlight, which then propels it.

Now you have to know that Loeb is the chair of the Advisory Committee for Penetration Initiatives, a series of projects funded by Russian businessman Gori Milner that, among other things, aims to build a solar sail that is accelerated so strongly with a laser that in a few years it can It reaches another star system and sends images back to Earth from there. Loeb wrote about it in the book not a secret, but was promptly accused of trying to publicize his thesis project.

Breakthrough Starshot Initiative

This is how the Breakthrough Initiative, to which Avi Loeb belongs, presents the laser-accelerated solar sail.

(Photo: dpa)

Not a totally absurd accusation, except that only Loeb is definitely not interested in money. His sponsor Milner has had enough of it, and as a Harvard professor, you don’t have to worry financially either. It is also perhaps not uncommon for a person who studies solar sail technology that is still so distinctive to be more likely to learn about it when encountered than other astronomers. Loeb himself believes that he follows strict scientific standards in his thesis, because his solar sail theory is simply the simplest explanation for Oumuamua’s unusual behavior, and thus the most straightforward. The asteroid or comet theses could not fully explain the observed data, and their authors will admit that as well. Why, according to the Harvard astronomer’s complaint, does one not open up to his statement that all the data are consistent?

According to Loeb, massive skepticism toward his thesis is due to the frustration of naturalists. Even PhD students seldom dare to tackle subjects outside the mainstream for fear of never getting a job. Young scientists are practically driven out of curiosity.

Avi Loeb: Alien. Intelligent life outside our planet. Translated from the English language by J├╝rgen Schroeder. DVA, Munich 2021.272 pages, 22 euros.

Loeb’s controversial theses should be discussed. Unfortunately, Extraterrestrial is not a particularly good book. In addition to the main thesis, which is presented in a few pages, it is a mixture of the autobiography, the rebuke of colleagues, and the banalities from the philosophical and scientific examination of the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Loeb often repeats himself, for example when he explains that various physics theories such as supersymmetry, string theory, or extra dimensions, which are being funded by billions, are more insane and less realistic than his treatise on a solar sail.

One must also object that it does not reflect the view of his own observer, although he always indicates his philosophical teaching. An anthropomorphic Lop Perspective, as he seeks and finds what he knows, i.e. ground technology. It would also be possible that Oumuamua was an asteroid whose characteristics cannot yet be explained by our level of knowledge. Perhaps this is the simplest explanation because it works without aliens.

Despite these weaknesses, Loeb has another important clue in his book. He suggests betting on Oumuamua. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said that believing in God is more worth the effort than not doing it, because the advantages of faith far outweigh the advantages of unbelief. Loeb sees the same thing with Oumuamua: It is better for humanity to believe and act accordingly, as if they weren’t alone in the universe, than not to do so. The benefits of searching for life and being more humble about our place in the universe will far outweigh the disadvantages of being wrong.