Shortly before Halloween, the chairman of Harvard’s astronomy department openly declared that an interstellar object hurtling through our Solar System might just be part of an extraterrestrial craft. And then…crickets.
The astrophysics blog Centauri Dreams broke the story to the cognoscenti three days later. It presented an informed survey of the academic paper which raised this brash possibility, bolstered with quotes and commentary from the paper’s co-author (and noted department chair), Avi Loeb. It was well into November before outlets like CNN, Time, and The Washington Post picked up the story, replete with the inevitable sarcastic quotation marks and snarky headlines. The object, named ‘Oumuamua, had a number of weird and seemingly contradictory properties; it could be that those properties appear the way they do because our observations weren’t all that great. There are also other possibilities.
I read Loeb’s paper—which by then had been speedily accepted for publication by the respected Astrophysical Journal. A few days later, Loeb and I sat down for the longest and—by Loeb’s own account—the most serious and in-depth interview he’s given on this subject. The embedded audio player following the colon at the end of this very sentence features an hour-ish edit of it, including all the highlights: