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Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device
It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?
- 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
- The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
- It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
That odd-shaped visitor from beyond our solar system, 'Oumuamua (Hawaiian for "scout"), has been fascinating from the moment it arrived: It's a spaceship, it's a rock, it's a comet, it's not a comet. But is it a spaceship? That's where its behavior has some scientists at Harvard leaning; they suggest it may be a device of some kind powered by a lightsail, or a piece of one.
What's got experts so puzzled about 'Oumuamua is, as an about-to-be-published paper says: "'Oumuamua showed deviations from a Keplerian orbit at a high statistical significance." In English: It sped up as it approached the Sun. Comets can do this, but 'Oumuamua has been disqualified as an active comet, as it has no tail. Shmuel Bialy and Abraham Loeb, the authors of the paper, propose that the increase in speed could be due to "solar radiation pressure." The bottom line, they say, is that the discrepancy "is readily solved if 'Oumuamua does not follow a random trajectory but is rather a targeted probe." The paper discusses the math involved and finds that its "general results apply to any light probes designed for interstellar travel."
What we saw is what we get
That dot in the center is an actual image of 'Oumuamua.
'Oumuamua's gone from our view at this point, so any analysis of it or its movements is limited to the data collected during its period of observability. It was first spotted from the PAN-STARRS telescope on Maui (hence its Hawaiian name) on October 19, 2017, and by January 2018 it was gone. Any conclusions we draw have no way of being tested now.
At the time, 'Oumuamua was scanned for radio waves — a basic means of communicating which we assume/hope is the universe's lingua franca — and no radio waves were found, leading observers away from suspicions that its origin could be an alien civilization.
At first, 'Oumuamua was assumed to be an asteroid, but its subtle gain in speed as it drew near the Sun suggested a comet, and it still could be one, though of a kind with which we're unfamiliar. Comets accelerate near the Sun because, as NASA puts it, "Light and other radiation from the Sun push on the gas and dust in the coma, blowing the material away to form a tail that can be millions of kilometers long." The problem with 'Oumuamua is that it had no observable tail. In fact, we couldn't see it that well at all. As you can see in the photo above.
What did 'Oumuamua really look like?
We're all familiar with the shape ascribed to 'Oumuamua, as seen at the top of this article, but since the images really captured of 'Oumuamua showed it as a far-away dot, its presumed shape is a mathematically derived guess based on the way its brightness fluctuated, suggesting a tumbling, elongated object 10 times as long as it was wide. (Current calculations put 'Oumuamua at about 800 meters long.) The rest of its appearance was likewise deduced by its behavior. What many take to be its true appearance is just an artist's conception. So, we're used to feeling like we know what 'Oumuamua looked like, but we don't really know. If you find yourself thinking, "it sure doesn't look like an alien device," well, maybe.
Is 'Oumuamua a lightsail that remains from a larger craft?
The paper offers two theories, either of which would explain 'Oumuamua's odd acceleration. The first is that, "'Oumuamua is a lightsail, floating in interstellar space as a debris from an advanced technological equipment. Lightsails with similar dimensions have been designed and constructed by our own civilization, including the IKAROS project and the Starshot Initiative." Citizen-funded Planetary Society plans to launch one, simulated in the gif above, soon.
A lightsail is a device that uses in-space energy to propel craft via solar pressure. It uses the momentum from solar photons striking a large, thin, reflective sail. What's so interesting about craft powered by lightsail is that they can pick up the energy they need as they travel, rather than storing heavy fuel onboard.
Could 'Oumuamua be an actual probe deliberately sent here?
"A more exotic scenario is that 'Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization," suggests the paper. Apparently, if there were a lot of naturally occurring objects like 'Oumuamua, we'd be seeing lots of them. And we're not.
Two experts from SETI weigh in. And disagree.
Two scientists from SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), SETI director Andrew Siemion and senior astronomer Seth Shostak, have publicly commented on the conclusions drawn by Bialy and Loeb.
Siemion termed the paper "intriguing," telling The Globe that, "Observational anomalies like we see with 'Oumuamua, combined with careful reasoning, is exactly the method through which we make new discoveries in astrophysics — including, perhaps, truly incredible ones like intelligent life beyond the Earth." However, in an email to NBC, Shostak warned, "one should not blindly accept this clever hypothesis when there is also a mundane explanation for 'Oumuamua — namely that it's a comet or asteroid from afar."
LightSail: An experiment over 35 years in the making
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.