Why 2018 was the year of the extraterrestrials
Harvard's Dr. Avi Loeb took his search for aliens to a whole new stratosphere.
There was so much news this year. A boys soccer team got stuck in a cave in Thailand. Never-before-seen footage surfaced of Einstein driving a 'flying car.' It was announced that the Wonder Woman sequel would be pushed back. Like we said, a lot of news.
But perhaps no other topic spiked our pageviews more than the plethora of planetary news bits that occurred throughout 2018. And, for most of those items, we have one person to thank: Dr. Avi Loeb.
It all started at the beginning of the year when we decided to fly to Boston and visit the second-floor office of Loeb on the campus of Harvard University. The Israel-born astrophysicist is the chair of the school's Astronomy Department and the founder of its Black Hole Initiative.
Loeb is spearheading a $100 million project – worked on by none other than Stephen Hawking before his death earlier this year – that is actively searching for alien life. This is not merely an intellectual exercise. Loeb, an alumnus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, believes that Earth will not be habitable forever. It may be an asteroid tomorrow or rising waters centuries from now, but it would be smart if we start looking for a backup home.
Hence his mission to find extraterrestrials, communicate with them that we come in peace, and ask (politely) if we can move in with them on their planet. We recorded our conversation with Loeb and you can listen to him explain the concept in detail here:
With such an intriguing topic, we set up a Google Alert for Dr. Loeb's name, sat back, and watched 2018 take shape...
January: Loeb began the year listening for aliens in the mountains of West Virginia at the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope and the world's largest land-based movable structure. (This was following up on similar listening sessions he conducted in 2017.)
February: It's reported that a massive fireball may have destroyed a potential second Earth ... but Loeb optimistically explains why we still might be able to move there.
An artist's impression of a flare from Proxima Centauri, modeled after the loops of glowing hot gas seen in the largest solar flares. (Photo: Roberto Molar Candanosa / Carnegie Institution for Science, NASA/SDO, NASA/JPL)
May: Loeb's Breakthrough Listen Initiative set up a new multi-beam receiver on a telescope in Australia. Covering a larger area than previous telescopes, it can capture data on one of the densest neighborhoods in the galaxy.
June: Physicists in France suggest that the best way to colonize an alien planet would be to send 98 people – 49 men and 49 women – to begin a new civilization. But Loeb offered up a different approach. "My own prediction is that we are more likely to send robots equipped with artificial intelligence and 3D printers rather than people for these long journeys to exoplanets," Loeb told us. "The human body is not designed to survive in the harsh environment of space, and artificially designed systems could do much better. Once they land on the surface of an exoplanet they can use 3D printers to reconstruct humans there. Instead of transporting humans, it would make more sense to carry their DNA blueprints and reconstruct them over there."
September: Loeb gave a public lecture at Harvard about the search for life on other planets. He discussed, among other things, the feasibility of traveling to an alien planet and being welcomed into the intersellar club.
September: Loeb published an essay in Scientific American about searching for artifacts or relics of dead civilizations in outer space. "Instead of using shovels to dig into the ground as routine in conventional archaeology, this new frontier will be explored by using telescopes to survey the sky and dig into space," he wrote.
September: He published a new research paper that explores the different types of elements that one might find on an alien planet.
September: Dr. Loeb appeared on the premiere episode of a new science interview show called Event Horizon. In the interview, he talked about why the universe may be full of alien civilizations. The video, which you can watch below, went viral and has already been viewed more than 100,000 times.
October: A new Loeb paper posits that extraterrestrials could be hitching a ride across the Milky Way. He calls them 'tiny astronauts sitting in a natural spacecraft.'
November: Dr. Loeb says an alien spaceship might've flown by Earth. "The response ... has been truly remarkable," Loeb revealed.
"It is exciting to live at a time when we have the scientific technology to search for evidence of alien civilizations," Loeb told us about his work. "This will be the biggest leap forward since the Apollo mission. I like challenges. It's not fun otherwise."
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Related Topics: Space