It Might Be Aliens.

The mysterious ‘Oumuamua is prompting debates about how to handle the extremely improbable.

Aaron Mak | Slate

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by European Southern Obervatory/M. Kornmesser/Handout via Reuters.

Abraham Loeb, chair of Harvard’s department of astronomy, recently gave a freewheeling interview to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which he defended his hypothesis that a piece of alien technology recently passed through our solar system. “If it turns out to be correct, it’s one of the greatest discoveries in human history,” he said in the interview, which was published on Monday. Loeb made largely the same argument in an interview with the New Yorker on Wednesday, in which he said, “My motivation, in part, is to motivate the scientific community to collect more data on the next object rather than argue a priori that they know the answer.”

What is Loeb talking about? Did we discover alien life and fail to notice? Not exactly—in October 2017, astronomers at the University of Hawaii detected an object moving rapidly across the night sky using a telescope mounted on top of a volcano. Upon further investigation, the astronomers discovered that they were the first people ever to observe an object known to have originated outside our solar system. The university’s researchers dubbed the object ‘Oumuamua, which translates to scout in Hawaiian, and published their findings in a paper in Nature.

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