Abraham "Avi" Loeb is an Israeli-American theoretical physicist who works on astrophysics and cosmology. Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. He had been the longest serving Chair of Harvard's Department of Astronomy (2011–2020), Founding Director of Harvard's Black Hole Initiative (since 2016) and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation (since 2007) within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.Loeb is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the International Academy of Astronautics. In July 2018, he was appointed as chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA) of the National Academies, which is the Academies' forum for issues connected with the fields of physics and astronomy, including oversight of their decadal surveys.View the profile
Leah Crane is a reporter at New Scientist and is based in Chicago. She writes about everything space and physics, from strange asteroids to the expansion of the universe to quantum computing. She tweets at @DownHereOnEarth.View the profile
About the talk
The search for extraterrestrial life is one of the most exciting frontiers in Astronomy. First tentative clues were claimed close to Earth: the weird interstellar object `Oumuamua and the cloud deck of Venus. Our civilization will mature once we find out who resides on our cosmic street by searching with our best telescopes for unusual electromagnetic flashes, industrial pollution of planetary atmospheres, artificial light or heat, artificial space debris or something completely unexpected. We might be a form of life as primitive and common in the cosmos as ants are in a kitchen. If so, we can learn a lot from others out there.
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New Scientist magazine. And I am here with Avi Loeb the chair of the astronomy department at Harvard. And we're here to talk about aliens. Thanks for joining me, Avi. Thanks for having me. So you're booked on the first Interstellar asteroid and when was just come out and the title extraterrestrial, the first sign of intelligent life beyond Earth implies that. You think this asteroid may be a relic of ancient intelligent alien life. Why do you think that What is
object like the Rocks we have seen before in the Solar System, look like a call since you didn't have it, to retain us and he didn't appear to be an asteroid and a rocket does not have ice on it because it was pushed away from the Sun, is most likely by reflecting sunlight and actually a few months ago and in September and then it was realized that this is the rocket booster launched in 1966, and we know that what's the best way to push by reflecting sunlight, it has a large area for its weight.
So if the question is who produced it, Can we go look at a Momo and now to try and figure out what it is. Unfortunately, not because they're well, it's moving faster than any rocket we can launch, but they're more importantly, it's now a million times better than it was when it passed near the sun. However, when I go to the kitchen and I get alarm because it means that there must be many more are out there. And so we looked at the sky for just a few years with the Pawn Stars telescope in Hawaii and we found this subject. That means that with the same telescope, we should
find another one within a few years. There's no reason why that. Of time was actually, in less than three years. There would be a new Observatory called The Observatory. That would be much more sensitive than pants are fine. An object, like that every month. And so they say is, if we do find another object on its approach to us, we could send a camera close-up photo. A picture is worth a thousand words. In my case, a picture is what 66,000 was the number was in my book.
So, do you think that we have already seen signs of intelligent life that we just haven't understood, given that? We sort of got this glimpse of this object, and then it will go away. Call anyway, we responded or the community responded. Similarly to a caveman that is used to playing with rocks and when presented with a cell phone would say, the cell phone is a Shiny Rock. I mean it's a natural tendency to assume that what we see is always what we have seen before. But when you go on the beach and you must be seen natural
every now and then you see a plastic bottle and that indicated civilization may be around, then, you know, it's quite possible that by doing space, archeology find many artificial object out there because we sent out Voyager, 1 Voyager to New Horizons and other probes and they potentially, they were civilization the same. The sun is the relative latecomer most hours for billions of years before the sun. And so it's quite likely. The space is full of equipment floating around. We focused in the past on
listening to radio signals but that is just like a phone call you if you had, you need that account about to be alive at the time that you are having the conversation. We can talk have a conversation with the Mayan culture. It's not around anymore, but we can find about their lives from the relics they left behind throughout your logical. Biggs install archaeology offers us a glimpse at what existed in the past and it's a mainstream activity that we have in the scientific Community right now. On Earth, I suggest having it.
Your ideas about Mom or have faced pretty significant backlash and some of them said that it's irresponsible to speculate about this kind of thing. When we don't have enough evidence or really almost any evidence to say that it's aliens, are you concerned about the potential consequences of this kind of speculation for public trust in science. Well, I wouldn't call it speculation because I I try to follow the evidence in this object header. Normally, what I described in my book, about six of them, made it very different than anything we have seen before. So we should put our
possibilities on the table and I put the artificial origin of the table, they were over there passed a couple of years. There were several other suggestions, three of them and they have a generator, Terry because hydrogen is invisible. And the problem with that proposal is that they would not survive the trip through Interstellar space, we showed up in a scientific paper. We published another proposal was that he said Dust Bunny. If their object Less dense than are floating in space, and being pushed by reflecting
200, by hundreds of degrees and such a cloud very fluffy cloud and there was another suggestion but maybe shrapnel object that fast close to a star and was disrupted by the title force of the star. That's where the king cigar shape. But in fact, it's a 90% confidence level the reflected light from this object imply that install where it cannot be associated with such an event. So all of the possibilities of her food on the table, do not look very appealing. Of course, it could be something that we haven't imagined, but so far all of them to an artificial origin,
is something that we have never seen before. And so my point is, if it's something that we have never seen before, we should definitely consider also that was an artificial object, mainly because it has huge implications for our society and just ignoring the possibility. Irresponsible people say extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence my reply to that is extraordinary. Conservatism leads to extraordinary ignorance. If we are not something new, we will never Discover it. You know, there was a seminar at Harbor and when I left
the room, one of my colleagues that worked for decades on rocks within the song. It's so weird. I wish it never existed and I was appalled by this because when Nature gives you some evidence that doesn't line up with what you expected, that's actually an opportunity to learn something new science is supposed to be exciting, not boring. You shouldn't complain about the fact that something doesn't line up with what you expected. Relevant to that story. You had a somewhat adversarial relationship with some other
researchers involved in the search for extraterrestrial life. And some other scientists say, you aren't giving enough credit to the history of the search for extraterrestrial life and the growing field around you, that's continuing to search. Are you getting enough credit to others and field for sure. I, I meant, you know, I have great respect for the past, but he's in the mainstream of astronomy. So, in fact, I argue for a thousand times more funding to the search then was given in the past and I actually Advocate that what was done in the past should
be noted, the fringes of astronomy, but rather at the center of astronomy because look, for example, about the search for dark matter, I don't know what most of the matter in the universe is and there are some ideas about that they want particle or another, and then we invested hundreds of millions of dollars and that's considered part of the mainstream activity. Even though it was not successful, we are searching in the dark so to speak for the dark matter. But also, knowing the kitchen for our private life is a dark Matter's, galaxian versus a weakly
interacting massive particles that would have zero impact on our daily lives. However, if there are technological, signatures out there and we are not the smartest kid on the Block. That would have a huge impact on society. But yet, the search for those is underfunded by a factor of a thousand. So I actually appreciate it was done in the past, and have great respect for people that worked on it. I actually want those people. 7000 more because I think it should be center stage in astronomy and then right now,
the stormy Community is pushing it and that's just being appropriate. Given the deposit is so interested in this subject and the public finds son's science should reflect the Public's interest. So, why do you think that there is this sort of conflict with your colleagues? About. Your work. Well, I think Papa Pete has to do with most people that are not familiar with the anomalies of whom were more. They prefer to stay in their comfort zone and not get into a controversy about the results of the association
with an unidentified flying objects or science, fiction science fiction that he's not necessarily following the scientific laws that we know and then that is that then you know an ancient history of their arguments that the human body has a soul and their fur, Anatomy should not be pursued, human body, should not be dissected and imagine if scientists would say all the result of controversy about the human body and some statements do not make any sense
and therefore we should not Get engaged to me if that were the case of great interest to the public and provide Clarity, if we have the tools to do that. So in the context of searching for technological signatures, we have the telescopes, we have the instruments, I think it's just a psychological block that we traditionally prevented us from going into this Arena, and that should be changed and that's the purpose of my book. You mentioned that you think that this should be center stage in astronomy? What do you think we need to
do in order to grow this field and grow the diversity of ideas in this field? Yes. So I can judge by the history of astronomy, and there were other feels that they are ridiculously early on and then we can give you samples for my personal experience. As gravitational. Wave astrophysics that received the Nobel Prize just a few years ago in physics. And I give a lecture at the winter School. In 2013, January 2015, in which he described gravitational. Wave astrophysics to the
students in 10 minutes into my lap and said to me. And by the way, that letter was 20 years younger than I am, These students on the subject during their career and they're just a couple of years later. The ligo experiment, discovered gravitational waves and now it's that one of the most exciting Frontier, Sinatra physics. So this is one example and other one, is that in 1952 saying that if a Jupiter, like Planet happens to be close to a star like the sun,
then it returned with the star back and forth. And we could detect that motion of the star or if it passes in front of the star of light from the Star. And then did not give such a search off of Jupiter close to a star because they already meant, was we know, this is so far from the Sun. I'll be close to Star and therefore it's a waste of time to search for that. But then in 1995 more than 40 years later in 2019 and so you might say explore this possibility that
time but there are many babies that were not born at all and they were wrong about this missing. Find the commercial sector you see much more openness and willingness to risk. The willingness is very low and that's why they get bruised all the time. What do you think needs to happen in order to find evidence of alien life? That is Convincing, not just to you, but to everyone else as well to see something that doesn't look like a roll, and there's a problem with the size of a football field and its distance from
the telescope that we have not resolved it. So, you really need to fly a camera close-up to touch an object, and then take a close-up photographs of it. And that would convince everyone. But if we think that we know the truth in advance, if we argue with never-ending, What do you think? The reaction will be like? If someone does find incontrovertible evidence of alien life, which about my boo, can there, in many of them, the question was raised as to which technological
capabilities because their idea was that maybe if we create turmoil in society that notion, because it will affect the religious beliefs and other political stability and other issues. And my point is that scientific knowledge is always good. You can use your voice to decide what to do with it. Just like in the case of nuclear energy, It is either at 4 or 3. Depends on your guiding principles, but knowing about our environment, knowing who else lives on our street is important information for our long-term, survival, for giving us the appropriate
perspective about our place in the universe. Do you believe that there is alien intelligence out there? Usually when we speak about alien life, a lot of the time we're talking about microbes, not people or anything resembling people, do you think it's out there and do you think it's out there in a way that is discoverable by us? Definitely, we now know that not only we are not at the center of the universe as advocated by Aristotle, the Greek philosopher
that was flattering to re go in for a thousand years. People believed him until Copernicus and Galileo, most likely the Earth moves around the Sun backyard is quite typical like stars have a planet. The size of the Earth refused to sing separation. And so, my point is simple. If you arrange with similar circumstances on a planet like the Earth, then you might as well get similar outcome. So if I had to get sidewalk, lots of things like us in the past, they may
not be around anymore or did something bad. In the form of industrial pollution or an object like that would appear technological, when we take a photograph of them and then we can search for artificial lights on the dark side of planets. We could search for big structures that surrounding planets or most of which are probably not around anymore. And the importance of that is the most Advanced Technologies to Earth and save us the time in the middle. But even more important lesson of History, if we realize why they're not around, we can avoid a
similar fate And I think that that is a good place to stop. So thank you so much IV. This is really fascinating, thank you for having me. I should just let you know that they have never visited us or are not particularly interested in us because of his social distancing at a cosmic scale. If they close them self in the Cocoon and never show any interest in interacting with anyone, you might think that we will never find about them anything but that's not necessarily true because they always have to
throw some trash and we can act as an investigative journalist do that than go through the trash cans of celebrities in Hollywood, some evidence for their private life. So, even if they're not ready to be found, we could still go out and look for him anyway. Exactly. Great. Thank you so much for being here and have a lovely rest of your day. And thank you to everyone else for watching.
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