Many years ago, a very strange object, elongated and shiny, flew through space tens of millions of miles from Earth. Its orbit and speed suggest it came from a system belonging to another host star.
A study by the Harvard astronomer suggested that there could be as many as 4 trillion alien spacecrafts flying in and around the solar system. (Artwork: Pixabay)
Astronomers named the object ‘Oumuamua – which means “spies” in Hawaiian – and began to split and argue over it.
On the one hand, most scientists don’t know what ‘Oumuamua is, but they’re also unwilling to speculate on what it might be.
On the other side, is a much smaller team led by Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb, who argue that we should at least consider the possibility that ‘Oumuamua is an alien spacecraft.
Now, with that logic in mind, Loeb goes on to ask another question: How many ‘Oumuamuas could be in and around the solar system?
And in an unreviewed study published September 22, Loeb and co-author Carson Ezell, also a Harvard astronomer, concluded that there could be as many as 4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 4 billion billion) such objects. Each of those objects came from a different stellar system and could have been artificially created.
The aforementioned number seems like a lot. But the solar system is very large. And the space between our star system and its nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is even larger. In fact, finding any of those 4 billion billion objects to study more closely can be very, very difficult.
It should be noted that Loeb does not claim to have billions and billions of alien spacecraft circling a region of space in the Milky Way. After all, he never said that ‘Oumuamua is definitely an automated or crewed probe, but just suggested that we should be open to the possibility.
So what Loeb and Ezell came up with wasn’t an overall calculation of aliens, but rather of alien probes or other unnatural objects. It could be parts left over from alien spacecraft, fragments using technology beyond our understanding.
The math is simple, Loeb and Ezell write: “We can use recent interstellar detection rates and known capabilities to estimate the densities of similar objects. in the vicinity of the Sun”.
They start with all the objects that astronomers have detected that come from outside the solar system. In other words, these are objects that are likely to come from an alien civilization that is beyond the reach of our probes and telescopes.
There are four known interstellar objects including the meteorites ‘Oumuamua, CNEOS 2014-01-08 and CNEOS 2017-03-09, along with comet Borisov.
Those are the four interstellar visitors scientists have found in eight years. Loeb and Ezell have only calculated based on the number of galaxies we can observe – not many – to arrive at an estimate of how many objects like ‘Oumuamua out there, have come from a star system vicinity.
They gave two estimates. One for all interstellar objects, including those that are randomly moving around and through the Solar System, and beyond the range of our instruments. That’s a staggering 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 40 decillion).
The second lower number, 4 trillion objects seems to point towards the “habitable zone” of the solar system, where Earth is and also where astronomers have a chance to detect a passing object. via.
This lower number is interesting not only because the objects in that estimate are easier to detect, but they are also more likely to be extraterrestrial artifacts. Because they seem to be headed our way after all, they could be objects with a purpose.
But Loeb doesn’t suggest all 4 trillion objects are exactly like ‘Oumuamua, an object remarkable not only for its origin but also for its size. It is large enough to be a very large, crewed spacecraft. Normally, most interstellar objects in the habitable zone around the Sun are very small, less than a meter in size. Loeb explained that there could only be a million objects the size of ‘Oumuamua.
That is, there are still plenty of potential ‘Oumuamuas out there, somewhere in the habitable zone of the solar system. Each object could be an alien spacecraft.
But actually identifying these objects, not to mention examining them in detail, is extremely difficult. Therefore, according to Edward Schwieterman, an astrophysicologist at the University of California, Riverside, a close encounter with a passing alien spacecraft is the least likely of the ways that we will ever be. first contact with aliens.
Schwieterman told The Daily Beast: “In my view, we are more likely to detect life originating outside the solar system through remote observation rather than physical encounters.”
We got lucky with ‘Oumuamua. It’s really big, it’s really shiny, and it’s about 21 million miles from Earth.
But the solar system is more than 9 billion miles across, and it’s 20 trillion miles away from Proxima Centauri. Since most interstellar objects are small and very distant, they will be much harder to detect than ‘Oumuamua. “It’s very difficult to see space debris from very far away,” Seth Shostak, an astronomer with the California-based SETI Institute, told The Daily Beast.
However, human space exploration is getting better. New telescopes including NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope help us peer further into the shadows of outer star systems, search for smaller and smaller objects, and discern those belonging to the system. The sun and its interstellar guests.
Loeb also noted about the 3.2 billion pixel camera Vera C. Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile. The observatory is supposed to start operating in 2023 and will help survey the entire southern sky every four days. “A high-resolution image can reveal the bolts and screws on the surface of a man-made object and distinguish it from a nitrogen iceberg, a hydrogen iceberg or a small dust pile,” says Loeb.
‘Oumuamua is a missed opportunity. While Loeb is open to the idea of it being an alien probe, most astronomers are not. If we could take a closer look at the next ‘Oumuamua, perhaps many scientists would think it could be an alien artifact. And in theory, we have 4 trillion chances.