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The Oumuamua Conundrum

“It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.”


Richard P. Feynman

When studying about the most notable scientific stories of the XXIst century, future students will probably giggle when trying to memorize a peculiar word found in their books: Oumuamua.

Recognized as the first object of unquestionable interstellar origin to ever intrude into our solar system –we know this because of the highly eccentric orbit it displayed in contrast to the ecliptic plane that most bodies in the system follow when orbiting around the Sun– Oumuamua was discovered in October of 2017 by Robert Weryk at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii, and ever since it has continued to puzzle scientists because its shape and behavior was even weirder than the name it was assigned to (it means “first distant messenger” in Hawaiian). Oumuamua moved like a comet, and yet it didn’t produce the characteristic tail of these icy bodies. To make things even more confusing, the varying light emitted by this not-comet suggested Oumuamua was at least 10 times as long as it was thick. How could this ‘interstellar baton’ retain its fragile form for so long?

And then there was the final insult to our knowledge about errant astronomical bodies, observed in June of last year: new data from the Hubble telescope confirmed Oumuamua’s velocity had increased during its rendezvous with the inner solar system, in ways that could not be explained by simple celestial mechanics and gravitational influences.

Astronomers paused their collective hand from scratching their collective head only to make that hand into an angry fist when they read a truly bold and controversial paper co-written in November of last year by Abraham Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department, and his postdoctoral student Shmuel Bialy. The paper was very rigorous in its math and the scientific assertions it proposed, and at the same time it did something no-one else in the scientific community dared to do: Suggest Oumuamua was in fact an ancient solar sail built by an extraterrestrial civilization and deliberately sent to intercept our solar neighborhood.

American-Israeli theoretical physicist Abraham (Avy) Loeb
American-Israeli theoretical physicist Abraham (Avy) Loeb

Last week the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an excellent interview with Loeb, which not only helps to explain in layman terms why Oumuamua is a true anomaly, but also highlights the many problems arising from the way the academic community tends to behave when confronted by a scientific mystery: with an a-priori contempt for any kind of novel ideas, especially when it comes to the possibility about alien life. An arrogant ‘it can’t be therefore it isn’t’ attitude that is even more prevalent –ironically enough– among the scientists more directly involved with the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). It’s almost as if we are so certain there’s no one else out there, we keep on looking for signs we’re not alone without really expecting to find any.

Not only that, but Loeb points out the kind of fear prevalent among his colleagues of making their ideas public, if they happen to be too ‘heretical’:

“The article I published was written, in part, on the basis of conversations I had with colleagues whom I respect scientifically. Scientists of senior status said themselves that this object was peculiar but were apprehensive about making their thoughts public. I don’t understand that. After all, academic tenure is intended to give scientists the freedom to take risks without having to worry about their jobs. Unfortunately, most scientists achieve tenure – and go on tending to their image. As children we ask ourselves about the world, we allow ourselves to err. Ego doesn’t play a part. We learn about the world with innocence and honesty. As a scientist, you’re supposed to enjoy the privilege of being able to continue your childhood. Not to worry about the ego, but about uncovering the truth. Especially after you get tenure.”

In the interview, Loeb explains to the Haaretz reporter that Oumuamua is probably shaped like a flat pancake instead of a cigar. Not only that, but its relative velocity compared to the average speed of all the stars in the region suggests this ‘distant messenger’ was at ‘relative rest’ until the solar system reached its position while traveling around the center of the Milky Way. Read that last sentence again until it sinks in.

But how to explain the biggest mystery of all –Oumuamua’s sudden and inexplicable acceleration once it entered the inner solar system? “The only hypothesis I could think of,” Loeb says, “is a push from solar radiation pressure. For that to work, the object would have to be very thin, less than a millimeter thick, in other words a type of pancake. In addition, the Spitzer Space Telescope found no evidence of heat emission from the object, and that means that it is at least 10 times more reflective than a typical comet or asteroid. What we have, then, is a thin, flat, shiny object. So I arrived at the idea of a solar sail: A solar sail is a spaceship that uses the sun for propulsion. Instead of using fuel, it is propelled ahead by reflecting light. In fact, it’s a technology that our civilization is developing at this very time.”

How solar sails work

I urge you to read the interview in its entirety. In the end,  I feel whether Loeb is correct or not about Oumuamua, and it was not in fact an ancient probe sent by an advanced civilization tens of thousands of years ago, is not the most important thing about the paper he and his student wrote. As the scientific director of Project Starshot which studied the possibility of deploying solar sails traveling at one-fifth the speed of light, critics could very well argue he’s falling into an ‘antropomorphization’ of this astronomical anomaly, attributing aliens with the same kind of technology we’re currently trying to develop –then again, SETI is also guilty of the exact same thing, insisting our hypothetical galactic neighbors would only bother to communicate with us using radio transmissions.

No, the value in Loeb’s hypothesis is that it helped to highlight how in the cutting-edge areas of Science, we tend to punish innovative thinking instead of encouraging it. Scientists are being conditioned to stick to what is accepted by the status quo in order to protect their careers. Only the older scientists who are sufficiently shielded from professional suicide by having already achieved enough recognition, or won enough prizes and medals, are the ones brave enough to dare to say “what if” out loud. With that kind of rationale, we are less likely to make any major breakthroughs.

“If you’re not ready to find exceptional things, you won’t discover them. Of course, every argument needs to be based on evidence, but if the evidence points to an anomaly, we need to talk about an anomaly. Who cares if this anomaly appeared or did not appear in science-fiction books? I don’t even like science fiction.”

Loeb’s colleagues are still detecting mysterious fast radio bursts (FRBs) coming from the deepest reaches of the Universe. Nobody knows what originates them, but suggesting they could be actual transmissions of artificial origin is not considered kosher among ‘serious’ researchers. Likewise, NASA is getting prepared to probe the surface of Mars in search of microbial fossils, and yet the debate involving meteorite ALH 84001, discovered in Antarctica more than 20 years ago, rages on. The findings of the scientists who suggested the microscopic structures found inside the meteorite were signs of Martian life were flat-out rejected by most of the scientific community –this at a time when even considering the possibility that Mars had had water in its ancient past was simply preposterous.

Meteorite ALH 84001. Signs of Martian fossils?

Perhaps schools should teach the future generations of scientists and thinkers to dare to be wrong more often. Instead of waiting ’til they get tenure and secure retirement.

SOURCE:

The Daily Grail

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Aliens & UFO's

Friend, foe or unknown force flying overhead? Congress should find out

Since 2015, dozens of Navy F-18 fighter jets have encountered unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAPs) — once commonly referred to as UFOs — off the East Coast of the United States, some not far from the nation’s capital. Encounters have been reported by other military aircraft and civilian airliners elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad, too, including videos shot by airline passengers.

What these UAPs were and who was flying them — whether friends, foes or unknown forces — remains a mystery. Yet careful examination of the data inevitably leads to one possible, disturbing conclusion: A potential adversary of the United States has mastered technologies we do not yet understand to achieve capabilities we cannot yet match.

It is long past time for Congress to discover the answers to those questions and to share at least some of its conclusions with the public.

The U.S. government came a large step closer to confirming the reality of UAPs when the U.S. Navy acknowledged in late April that “there have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated airspace in recent years.”

But first, members of Congress and the public need to become familiar with the facts.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to gauge the overall level of UAP activity since military personnel rarely report their encounters for fear of damage to their careers. Even when reports are filed, the information generally is ignored because nobody “owns” the UAP issue and the various commands and agencies involved have not shared information on UAPs.

It remains to be seen whether the Navy’s new UAP reporting process will be emulated throughout our massive, almost feudal security apparatus in which the barons sometimes spend more time protecting bureaucratic turf from rivals than protecting U.S. territory from adversaries. Thus, any genuine solution to the UAP issue must address the issue of interagency coordination and collaboration.

The good news is that America already possesses vast sensor networks, ranging from the depths of the oceans to the harsh bleakness of space, capable of collecting the requisite information. All that Congress need do at this juncture is require the secretary of Defense and the director of national intelligence to review the UAP issue and deliver a report providing a comprehensive assessment. This report should include not only an estimate of the situation but a description of the structure and processes required to ensure effective collection and analysis going forward.

The Trump administration should be free to provide the report at whatever level of classification it deems appropriate. One entity with which I am involved — To the Stars Academy (TTSA), an organization of former U.S. intelligence and national security experts analyzing the UAP phenomenon — has placed notional legislative language on its website to facilitate this discussion. While some modest manpower costs might be incurred, the TTSA proposal does not require new Defense Department funding. It also averts the spectacle of public hearings and the attendant risk of injecting partisanship or grandstanding into the process.

Why should Congress act? In the first instance because it is Congress’s job to raise, organize and fund the military. It can hardly do so without being fully aware of the threats we face. Indeed, that is why we have a law requiring written notice to Congress of serious intelligence failures. Most Americans would no doubt agree that our inability to identify scores of mysterious aircraft repeatedly violating restricted U.S. military airspace in recent years is a shocking failure. But there is no need to wrangle over compliance with intelligence oversight laws. The Navy’s recent admissions regarding UAP intrusions provide more than adequate grounds for requiring a written report to Congress.

Perhaps we’ll learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not idly boasting when he bragged, more than a decade ago, that Russia’s “newest technical systems will be capable of destroying targets at an intercontinental distance with hypersonic speed and extreme maneuverability.” While it seems unlikely that Russia — or China — has pulled that far ahead of the U.S., there is no reason to leave this to chance. And while the Navy’s announcement seems to eliminate the prospect that these vehicles are secret U.S. military aircraft, perhaps we’ll find that Elon Musk has some amazing new toys.

It is not just that the UAPs that military pilots are encountering are strange — no paint, rivets, wings, antenna, safety lights, transponders or exhaust — but they sometimes are so fast and maneuverable that they defy our understanding of physics. For example, some of these vehicles appear to withstand forces of acceleration far greater than maximum design limits of any man-made aircraft. No wonder some military witnesses — often, pilots who are scientists or engineers themselves — actually lean toward the hypothesis that they are not from this world. Like all good scientists, these pilots recognize that our theories must adjust to facts and new information, however daunting, not the other way around.

If our best minds were brought to bear to study the technology confronting us, much as the Japanese did in the 1850s when confronted by Admiral Perry’s fleet, then unprecedented technological breakthroughs could occur in short order. For example, the fact that these craft do not seem to produce exhaust yet fly vast distances at immense speeds could provide technical solutions to our energy crisis.

Some of America’s finest aviators and air defense personnel are trying to get our attention. They are not panicked — but they are right to be concerned. It seems clear the facts demand further action. In light of the facts, a mere report requirement seems a very modest response to potentially disturbing new national security information.

If UAPs turn out to be toys of Elon Musk’s making, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief. If they are Russian, we’ll be glad we took action now rather than kicking the can down the road. If we learn that someone else’s more advanced version of our Voyager spacecraft has reached Earth, then this humble measure will forever transform our understanding of the universe and man’s place within it.

By any measure, the effort required to prepare a report for Congress seems to be a bargain.

Christopher Mellon served 20 years in the federal government and was deputy assistant Defense secretary for intelligence from 1999 to 2002, and for security and information operations from 1998 to 1999. From 2002 to 2004, he was minority staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under Sen. John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.). He is a national security affairs adviser for To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science and a consultant to HISTORY’s nonfiction series, “Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation,” which premieres May 31.

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Aliens & UFO's

Alien Life Might Be so Advanced That It’s Indistinguishable From the Laws of Physics

We’ve never seen aliens … or have we? No, Roswell conspirators, not now. Please sit down. We’re talking in multitudes of higher complexity.

Try this on: Maybe aliens are the puppet masters behind the laws of physics. Or maybe aliens literally are physics. Just when we thought we had a grasp on the fundamental constants of the universe, boom, dark matter rips off the mask, and it’s E.T. Too crazy to be true? Prove it.

Related Video: The Physics of Life

Magic, Shmagic

British science-fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke famously formulated three adages known as Clarke’s three laws. Of them, number three steals most of the spotlight: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Consider cavemen for a moment. If you hand-delivered an iPhone to an ancient cave-dweller, he’d be dumbfounded at the “magical” device. But give it some time, and Fred Flintstone would probably start tweeting and Snapchatting. Now, let’s crank ‘er up a notch. Imagine technology so advanced, it’s not even recognizable as technology, or magic, for that matter. It could be so advanced that calling it magic would be an insult. Sorry, David Blaine.

One-Word Explanation for Anything: ALIENS

This isn’t all some far-out psychedelic rambling. (Even if it were, we’d still be here for it.) As bonkers as it may sound, Scharf argues that his thought experiment could explain the most mysterious cosmic phenomena. Take our dear ol’ elusive friend, dark matter. This unseen stuff makes up 27 percent of the observable universe, but virtually everything else about it is famously unknown. Based on the assumptions and predictions of cosmologists and astronomers, dark matter could be much more complicated than we’re ready to understand. Inconsistencies between dark matter models and observations only back that up.

With all this apparent complexity, Scharf says it wouldn’t be outlandish to think that technologically advanced life is stored there. “What better way to escape the nasty vagaries of supernova and gamma-ray bursts than to adopt a form that is immune to electromagnetic radiation? Upload your world to the huge amount of real estate on the dark side and be done with it.” The inconsistencies might just be a result of being artificially tampered with.

You can run a similar exercise with the elusive dark energy, which makes up roughly 68 percent of the universe. The universe didn’t start expanding at an accelerated rate until a cool 5 billion years ago, and scientists don’t know why. Well, well, well, how convenient.

According to Scharf, an advanced alien civilization could have bumped the speed up so they wouldn’t have to live in such a crowded, hot mess of a universe. “Any very early life in the universe would have already experienced 8 billion years of evolutionary time by the time expansion began to accelerate,” he writes. “It’s a stretch, but maybe there’s something about life itself that affects the cosmos, or maybe those well-evolved denizens decided to tinker with the expansion.”

Just Sayin’

Note that the ideas Scharf is putting out there are just that: ideas. None of this is peer-reviewed or even testable (YET). This is just one brave astrobiologist on a mission to brainstorm the boundaries of theoretical possibility and make you paranoid beyond all reason that every inescapable, so-called law of “nature” affecting you is extraterrestrial intelligence. We’re just having fun, kids!

Scharf signs off with a mind-bender: “Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn’t just external. Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence. In other words, life might not just be in the equations. It might be the equations.”

Want more from Carl Scharf? Check out this book “The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities.” 

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Aliens & UFO's

A pilot of the Turkish Airlines company records a UFO from the cabin

It has always been said that the only people who see UFOs are anonymous people, who get carried away by the stereotype that has been perpetuated by the world of science fiction, leading to erroneous identifications of what they have witnessed. But the reality is quite another, UFOs are sighted by men and women from all walks of life, and from all social and economic classes: from chefs to bankers, cleaning staff to surgeons, writers and politicians. So, it should not surprise us that those who spend their working days in the heavens also witness the so-called anomalous aerial phenomena . In fact, the cases of encounters of pilots with UFOs are considered more credible than any other.

And if we have to mention a particular case, the first thing that comes to mind is the flight 1628 of Japan Air Lines was, a UFO incident that occurred on November 17, 1986. The crew of the Japanese cargo plane Boeing 747- 200F, which was en route from Paris to Narita International Airport, near Tokyo, saw a UFO, in addition to being detected by the radars. The meeting lasted approximately seven minutes and the crew, made up of the captain, the co-pilot and the flight engineer, assured that two spacecraft stopped in front of the plane while emitting very intense lights, to such an extent that they felt the heat in the interior cabin.

The witnesses had experience and lots of flight hours, including Captain Teraushi Kenju, a former Japanese fighter pilot with more than 29 years of flight experience. Undoubtedly, this incident is one of the best known UFO cases in the history of aviation, but it is not the only one. Now, a stunt pilot has recorded a UFO flying at high speed from his cabin during a flight.

The Turkish UFO

Turkish captain Atilla Şentürk, from the Turkish Airlines area company, saw the strange object during a commercial flight from Istanbul to Cologne on May 10 . Şentürk recorded the white object moving in circles at an “incredible speed” from his plane. Half tricks have published the video, which shows the UFO emitting flashes of light on the horizon. Due to its distance from the plane, the object can not be clearly seen.

“During the flight from Germany to Cologne, we saw an incredibly bright object at high altitude ,” Şentürk told CNN in Turkey . “It was not a satellite or a star.”

The pilot added that the object quickly disappeared moments after it was recorded. Although the media usually report on UFO sightings, the pilot declared that he himself had never seen anything like it in his entire career.

“It was the first time I saw something like this,” added Şentürk. “He was very close to us and very bright despite the sun. I had never seen anything fly so fast. “

In addition to the captain, the flight cabin supervisor and the First Officer also witnessed the object of unknown origin . Since the images were taken by a pilot of a commercial plane, the Turkish media have echoed the unusual encounter. And how could it be otherwise, social networks have also reacted. There are many who have been surprised with what you see in the video, ensuring that the UFO was following the trajectory of the plane.

They also recalled that an incident similar to 2013 could have occurred, when a Boeing 757 from the Air China company hit an unidentified flying object . On that occasion, the encounter occurred at an altitude of 26,000 feet only 20 minutes after the plane took off.

UFO pilot - A pilot of the Turkish Airlines company records a UFO from the cockpit UFO from the cabin

There were no injuries between the passengers and the crew, but the plane was forced to make an emergency landing at the Shuangliu airport in China. Although most surprising of all was that when landing, the operators saw the aircraft visibly damaged. For the skeptics, both the sighting of Şentürk and similar ones are simply wrong identifications, completely forgetting that the witnesses are experienced pilots with a large number of flight hours.

What is your opinion about the video? Is it a UFO chasing the plane? Or do you have another explanation?

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