In late August the blog of Harvard professor Avi Loeb declared he had “Wonderful news! For the first time in history, scientists analyzed materials from a meter-size object that originated from outside the solar system.”
In July Loeb retrieved parts of a meteor that landed in the waters off of Papua, New Guinea in 2014. A local New York newscast describes the find as “metallic marbles, less than a millimeter in diameter,” while Loeb called them “beautiful spheres that were colored — blue, brown or gold.”
Now USA Today reports:
Early analysis shows that some spherules from the meteor path contain “extremely high abundances” of an unheard-of composition of heavy elements. Researchers on the team say the composition of beryllium, lanthanum and uranium, labeled as a “BeLaU” composition, does not match terrestrial alloys natural to Earth or fallout from nuclear explosions. Additionally, the composition is not found in magma oceans of Earth, nor the moon, Mars or other natural bodies in the solar system.
Other elements are thought to have been lost by evaporation during IM1’s passage through the Earth’s atmosphere, researchers said, leading them to theorize that the spherules could originate in a magma ocean on an exoplanet with an iron core outside the solar system.
Long-time Slashdot reader Okian Warrior writes that “Technical details can be found here, and a readable accounting of the analysis and results can be found on Avi Loeb’s blog.” Loeb writes that the exact composition of those spheres are now being studied at three separate laboratories, including one at Harvard.
In July the New York Times published reactions to Loeb’s claim that “It’s most likely a technological gadget with artificial intelligence.”
“People are sick of hearing about Avi Loeb’s wild claims,” said Steve Desch, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University. “It’s polluting good science — conflating the good science we do with this ridiculous sensationalism and sucking all the oxygen out of the room.” Dr. Desch added that several of his colleagues were now refusing to engage with Dr. Loeb’s work in peer review, the process by which scholars evaluate one another’s research to ensure that only high-quality studies are published… “What the public is seeing in Loeb is not how science works. And they shouldn’t go away thinking that.”
Last week Salon also had a few questions for Loeb:
In your book, you called Carl Sagan’s adage that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” a “logical fallacy.” How and why do you think that statement is somewhat flawed or a logical fallacy?
It’s used as an excuse for people who don’t want to deal with an exciting possibility. They don’t seek the evidence and they argue, “Well, we don’t have any evidence….”
If or when we encounter extraterrestrial life, do you think we’ll find it or it will find us? Why?
I think we will find it near us because most stars [formed] billions of years before the sun, so it’s more likely that some other civilizations preceded us because their star, if it’s like the sun, already went through what we in the future might go through. We just need to be humble and modest, not assume that we are unique and special — that Albert Einstein was the smartest scientist who ever lived since the Big Bang — and engage in the search.
That’s what I’m trying to do, and the pushback is really strange under these circumstances because the people who argue against it have very strong opinions. But if you look at the history of science, they were very often wrong: the people [who] thought that the earth was the center of the universe, for example.
From Loeb’s blog post:
During my routine jog at sunrise on the deck of Silver Star, I was asked: “Are you running away from something or towards something?” My answer was: “Both. I am running away from colleagues who have strong opinions without seeking evidence, and I am running towards a higher intelligence in interstellar space.”