Oumuamua and the Fermi paradox

by on December 16, 2017 at 12:32 am in Current Affairs, Philosophy, Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

“Where are they?”, cried out Enrico Fermi in anguish.  We have wondered ever since.  In spite of some subsequent refinements, I still find the Fermi paradox a…paradox.  Where are they?

Now, Oumuamua comes along…

And furthermore:

The object’s trajectory is so strange and its speeds are so blistering that it probably did not originate from within our solar system. Its discoverers concluded that the object is a rare interstellar traveler from beyond our solar system, the first object of its kind observed by humans.

So what do the academics say?

“The possibility that this object is, in fact, an artificial object — that it is a spaceship, essentially — is a remote possibility,” Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center, told The Washington Post on Monday.

Given the Fermi paradox, shouldn’t we assume a fairly high probability this is in fact some form of alien contact or display?  It’s like when you are expecting a package from UPS and then finally the doorbell rings…

So I’m excited, even though I don’t see much of a chance of a visit.  p = 0.3?  I need to crack open those old Arthur C. Clarke novels.

1 anonymous December 16, 2017 at 12:46 am

the laws of big numbers are not really “laws” and unexpected possibilities, as you say, !

2 anonymous December 16, 2017 at 9:55 pm

5 …. 7 …. 3 …. 2053 …. 2…. 9 …. 2 ….. 9 …. 11 ….2137 ….. 1461 …. 2 ….2 ….61 ….67 …..71 …. 2 …..73 … 79 …. 2 ….
Seriously who cares about alien intelligences, we live in a world that we share with fascinating number theories and nice sequences, who have a life of their own, too, because we care.

3 anonymous December 17, 2017 at 6:24 pm

half a google (remember when google meant google and did not mean cheap search engine? – Schroeder and Charlie Brown discussed it on a panel of Peanuts about 40 or 50 years ago)or so (i.e., half a google or so digits into the digits of pi), that sequence stems from an ordinary sequence of odd integers that you can easily find with enough computational support (that you can find by looking for a prime double preceded by a prime 12 numbers earlier, and the little numbers punctuated by the big numbers is what you often get, out at those reaches, when you use even a fairly simple algorithm to express , let’s say, the remainders of each integer when divided by another integer which is a function of a simple – anyone could understand it – to repeat, which is a function of a simple equation involving the square and cube roots of the integer, multiplied, and the remainder when each integer is divided by the result of that simple equation. So, a prime gap of 11, a prime double, and an unusual pattern of small numbers punctuated by seemingly random larger numbers, although – even half way to a google – the resulting small numbers are all, except 11, single-digit in base 10, and the large numbers are no more than four digits long.

Happens more often than you think. Thus are designed many of the patterns most of us miss in the background of intensely accurate – and, one hopes, compassionate – well-painted portraits.

Math is easy almost all the time, and can almost always be expressed in small words, not that there are not challenges out there, which is why we have math professors in this world, not everybody is content to be a simple observer like myself.

When translating archaic languages, it helps to know what you don’t know: well, of course you can’t know that, but it helps to understand the borderlands of what you don’t know.

4 A Truth Seeker December 16, 2017 at 12:56 am

“It’s like when you are expecting a package from UPS and then finally the doorbell rings…”

… and it is a murderer who wants to kill you and dress your skin.

5 msgkings December 16, 2017 at 1:47 am

Well yeah, that stuff happens in Brazil on the regular.

6 cliff arroyo December 16, 2017 at 4:37 am

They have TV games based on the idea…. They keep trying to get it into the olympics but it was turned down as an exhibition sport last time out because not enough other countries have leagues…. Colombia, Zaire (before it become something something Congo not the other Congo), Checnya, Phillipines…. and that’s about it.

7 Pshrnk December 16, 2017 at 2:02 pm
8 MTC December 16, 2017 at 12:58 am

It’s the orbit plus the shape that makes Oumuamua intriguing (Tyler shows the artist’s impression but doesn’t explicitly call this out). I don’t think astronomers are all that surprised to see an interstellar object on it’s own, every model of stellar system formation involves a lot of crap getting ejected, especially early on. But we’ve never seen *anything* in our solar system that is so elongated. One answer is that it is in fact an artificial object. Another theory is that elongated objects can’t survive long while bound to a solar system because interactions will break them up–but objects that are ejected early in a solar systems life time can wander the stars for ages with their initial funny shape. Or perhaps whatever event initially ejected Oumuamua from it’s system of origin also gave its funny shape.

I’ve still got the Wow! Signal at the top of my might-be-aliens power ranking, followed now by Oumuamua, then the Kepler star with the weird light curves in a distant third (cuz that would take a serious type 2 civ)

9 Yancey Ward December 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

In 4 billion years, exactly one species on the Earth has developed the ability to send radio emissions into space, and not all that far either. I don’t think the Fermi Paradox is a paradox- I think self-aware life like us is so rare we might well be unique.

I know that is an artist’s rendering, but even at that, it just seems like a rock.

10 T December 16, 2017 at 1:47 pm

What does ‘Not that far’ mean in the context of radio which has to travel at c?

11 Brian December 16, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Not that far means less than 100 light-years, so yeah, not very far at all. To give some perspective, there are maybe 500 stars within 100 light-years of earth. That represents 0.000000005 of even the most conservative estimate of 100 billion stars in just our galaxy. So even our very earliest radio signals have reached, to a very close approximation, none of the stars in our galaxy.

12 Yancey Ward December 17, 2017 at 2:42 am

See Brian below, but I also mean in terms of power. How easy would it be to detect our own radio waves from the 1930s today? What about 500 years from now for those same signals?

13 mkt42 December 16, 2017 at 1:02 am

Meh. As those slides in Tyler’s earlier post showed, there’s no strong reason to expect other intelligent life to exist in the Milky Way galaxy. Some sort of life, maybe. Maybe even dinosaur-like creatures. But they’re not going to be sending us oblong asteroids or radio transmissions.

There probably is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but they are galaxies away and have no way to contact us. The USS Enterprise in Star Trek couldn’t travel to even the next galaxy, let alone the several galaxies it would probably take to actually encounter those intelligent beings.

14 Nathan Taylor December 16, 2017 at 1:10 am

Given that this could’be been happening regularly in the past, my priors unchanged.

Honestly believe this is a case of a well done artistic image causing virality. The correlation between post/articles/tweets I’ve read saying possibly an alien and that image is extremely high. And those without that image? Very low. Some hat anecdotal, but telling.

15 ChrisA December 16, 2017 at 1:16 am

The object is highly unlikely to be a space craft because this would suggest alien species are fairly common, and if that were the case then they would already be here. Space is unbelievably big and the galaxy has been around an unbelievably long time, so the odds that we get the first visitor now as opposed to some other time is very very low.

Actually the Fermi paradox is better restated as to “why did it take our galaxy so long to produce an inter-stellar capable species?”. Every intelligent and industrialised species will be the first one on its planet almost by definition. If the planet had previously been colonised by an alien species, the native species would never have evolved in the first place. So we are the first on our planet and we are the first in the region where intersteller travel is possible. Its like a new island forming on the earth, say from volcanics. The island will almost certainly be colonised by plants and animals from the rest of the world rather than evolving its own life from scratch.

As to why it takes so long to form intelligent life capable of space travel, we can only speculate, probably it is just a mix of filters, from first forming of life to other challenges like intelligent brains being very costly in terms of energy but not very valuable until they get to our level.

The universe is pretty much agreed now to be infinite, and the quantum multiverse is probably true as well. So intelligent life will exist because it is physically possible and all physical possible things will exist in an infinite universe. But each intelligent species will be an island of life, usually separated into separate light cones.

16 Hamilton Booger December 16, 2017 at 1:21 am

Definitely Klingon.

17 Sam the Sham December 16, 2017 at 2:07 am

Drill Sargeant: This, recruits, is a 20 kilo ferrous slug. Feel the weight! Every five seconds, the main gun of an Everest-class dreadnought accelerates one, to one-point-three percent of lightspeed. It impacts with the force a 38 kiloton bomb. That is three times the yield of the city buster dropped on Hiroshima back on Earth. That means, Sir Isacc Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space! Now! Serviceman Burnside, what is Newton’s First Law?

Burnside: Sir! An object in motion stays in motion, sir!

No credit for partial answers maggot!

Sir! Unless acted on by an outside force, sir!

Damn straight! I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty. Once you fire this hunk of metal, it keeps going ’til it hits something. That can be a ship, or the planet behind that ship. It might go off into deep space and hit somebody else in 10,000 years! If you pull the trigger on this, you are ruining someones day! Somewhere and sometime! That is why you check your damn targets! That is why you wait ’til the computer gives you a damn firing solution. That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not ‘eyeball it’. This is a weapon of Mass Destruction! You are NOT a cowboy, shooting from the hip!

Sir, yes sir!

18 uair01 December 16, 2017 at 3:46 am

Did you make that up or is it a quote? If so, from where? If not, hat tip.

19 mkt42 December 16, 2017 at 5:09 am

Agree! (But couldn’t the slug get captured by and orbit a star or planet, instead of crashing into it? And if it did crash into a star, which seems far more likely than crashing into a planet, nobody would notice or care.)

20 Sam the Sham December 16, 2017 at 8:27 am

I post on Marginal Revolution, therefore I am not clever enough to make that up. That’s some side conversation present in the game series Mass Effect. Thought it seemed relevant! 🙂

21 Crikey December 16, 2017 at 8:41 am

It would be going too fast to be captured by a planet or star and even if it was going at a sedate pace capture is unlikely. Earth is not in a habit of collecting space rocks as they go by and Mars has only managed to catch two.

Because space is big, what is most likely to happen is it will never encounter anything larger than a particle of dust and will eventually be eroded away by dust particles exploding against it with the force of a tenth of a gram of TNT. Assuming the universe lasts that long, that is. (The current administration doesn’t give me much hope of that.)

22 Valentin December 20, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Googling “This, recruits, is a 20 kilo ferrous slug” seems to point to Mass Effect 2, which is a sci-fi RPG made by Bioware

23 Pshrnk December 16, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Romulans have probably been frequent visitors, but we didn’t notice.


24 Artimus December 16, 2017 at 1:34 am

Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hopeful to make contact with another intelligent civilization. It may not end well.



Stephen Hawking agrees

25 ChrisA December 16, 2017 at 1:42 am

I liked the Three Body Problem stories, but there are plenty of holes in the logic that the universe is teeming with many many separately developed life forms that can easily travel at near light speeds but somehow haven’t managed to find all the life bearing planets nearby.

26 GC December 16, 2017 at 2:46 am

It already happened to humans to meet another intelligent civilization and it invariably ended up with the more advanced civilization decimating the less advanced one. And they were both sharing the bond of humanity

This idea that any encounter with a more advanced alien species wouldn’t end up with us human caged in small reserves after our species’ trail of tears is very naive.

27 FG December 16, 2017 at 1:12 pm

Possible mitigant: I think that the civilization decimation in the past happened in large part due to resource constraints. We want your natural resources, so we’re going to subjugate you, and hey while we’re at it we need people to work and extract those natural resources, so we’re going to force you to do that. Or we’ll just kick you off the land and who knows what you’ll do.

It seems less likely that a species capable of interstellar travel is going to be all that interested in earth’s natural resources, or the literal manpower of its people.

28 athEIst December 16, 2017 at 2:37 pm

Unless they are Triffids.

29 JWatts December 17, 2017 at 10:24 pm

“It already happened to humans to meet another intelligent civilization and it invariably ended up with the more advanced civilization decimating the less advanced one. ”

Are you talking about when the Romans ran across the Germans? Because it didn’t really go down that way, at least not in the long run.

30 James December 16, 2017 at 2:05 am

p=0.3?? Where do I go to take this bet, with the entirety of my assets?? Lol

31 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 16, 2017 at 8:21 am

I would go much lower myself, and within that there are all kinds definition for “visit.”

Like the triffid spores are drifting our way .. borg nanobots .. It should be good for a few movie plots, being pitched now.

32 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 16, 2017 at 8:33 am

The valiant alien captain, his left appendage turning to grey gue, most of his crew down, does the one thing he can to protect his civilization from the nanobot contagion – he commands his ship toward the most distant star in his logs, at maximum speed.

Many, many, years later ..

33 Aaron Luchko December 16, 2017 at 4:29 pm

My thought too, I’m thinking he’s missing some zeros.

34 Loki December 16, 2017 at 2:41 am

And even traveling at such “blistering” speed how many thousands or even millions of years would it take for Oumuamua on it’s current trajectory to come from a solar system capable of supporting life?

All the science fiction that I’ve ever read which involves beings traversing the galaxy (let along between galaxies) requires that someone has invented a means to transport those sentient beings faster than the speed of light. If that just isn’t possible then the absence of contact with alien life is easy to explain – it just isn’t practical to travel the universe. If there is alien life it’ll just stay in its own part of the universe.

35 Tyler Cowen December 16, 2017 at 9:07 am

Sentient beings? Unlikely, bots, robots, AI, etc., if anything.

36 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 16, 2017 at 9:19 am

It would be sad if that was a real, but dead, ship. One in a billion chance lost.

37 Anon December 16, 2017 at 12:45 pm

That might be the best outcome, actually. Tear it apart and learn the secrets of an advanced civilization and its technology, risk free.

38 John de Rivaz December 16, 2017 at 1:11 pm

I would be surprised if much could be learned from an advanced alien technology. I worked in an electronics lab in the 1960s, and can imagine what might happen when taking a modern computer back through time to it. Unlike valve and early transistor circuitry, a modern PC motherboard contains inscrutable black boxes. A laptop or smartphone would be even worse – no covering panels to unscrew. Connecting it to the mains would get it to power up, but the Ethernet port could not be connected to the Internet which would not exist. Computers have less use if not on line. A smartphone would have little use except to display a “no signal” message.

Alien technology capable of interstellar flight probably wouldn’t even use electromagnetism at all.

39 Anon December 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

That’s not what happened in Terminator 2!

40 Barnaby Oakley December 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm

They had electron microscopes back in the 60’s

41 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

I think it is moving too fast, nothing we have could catch it.

42 Careless December 16, 2017 at 5:44 pm

All the science fiction that I’ve ever read which involves beings traversing the galaxy (let along between galaxies) requires that someone has invented a means to transport those sentient beings faster than the speed of light.


43 Dzhaughn December 16, 2017 at 3:02 am

I find Cowen’s excitement totally boring. I say name it “Rorschach.”

44 mkt42 December 16, 2017 at 5:29 am

Tyler’s enthusiasm about this astronomical object reminds me of Alex’s enthusiasm each time some random scientist claims to have discovered a medical breakthrough.

But this makes me realize that probably all of us have our own unreasonable enthusiasms, be it for James Bond novels, our local NBA team, Trump-like politicians, vegan cuisine, or whatever.

And we each have an even longer list of things that we are idiosyncratically un-enthusiastic about: Star Wars movies, Bitcoin, cryonics, solar eclipses (Tyler again, but he’d clearly seen only a partial eclipse, not a total one). Some people don’t like to talk or think about economics.

Tyler’s other post about how travel or expatriate living exposes you to a different set of speech restrictions may apply here: one of the potential advantages is that in addition to encountering different speech restrictions, you get exposed to people with a different set of unreasonable enthusiasms and un-enthusiasms. Maybe Jerry Lewis movies, anime, Sufiism, wlidlife photography or trophy hunting, etc. etc.

Can we figure out for ourselves what our own unreasonable enthusiasms are? Or do we have to wait for a friend or commenter to tell us when we’ve gone off the deep end?

45 ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ December 16, 2017 at 8:53 am

Unreasonable enthusiasms?

I am afraid I am becoming a Buddhist Youth instead.

46 Anon December 16, 2017 at 11:57 am

Tyler’s enthusiasm for alien space visitations is most similar to Christians’ enthusiasm for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

47 uair01 December 16, 2017 at 3:41 am

There’s a nice conceptual horror book about the Fermi paradox: Phyl-Undhu: Abstract Horror, Exterminator
by Nick Land. The chapter “Exterminator” describes “The filter” that eliminates all advanced civilizations. It’s pleasantly creepy: https://www.amazon.com/Phyl-Undhu-Abstract-Exterminator-Nick-Land-ebook/dp/B00R9Y4MLI/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1513413562&sr=8-3&keywords=nick+land

48 Mike_Breckenridge December 16, 2017 at 4:04 am

Quite a few discussions have been published on this question, “what will the impact of the discovery of Alien life be here on earth”?***
Check Google Scholar, if interested.***A common opinion is that everyone will get used to it quickly, and it will be yawn, ho hum, back to Twitter and Facebook, celebrity gossip, and baseball scores.


49 JWatts December 17, 2017 at 10:28 pm

“A common opinion is that everyone will get used to it quickly, and it will be yawn, ho hum, back to Twitter and Facebook, celebrity gossip, and baseball scores.”

I find that completely implausible. …. You didn’t even include Game of Thrones on that list.

50 John de Rivaz December 16, 2017 at 5:50 am

‘ourmuamua is said to cylindrical because its brightness varies as it spins, presumably end over end. Suppose it is spherical with one side brighter than the other, like Iapetus?

It is supposed to be spinning end over end and made of rock. Surely that would split it apart and the rocks gather into a sphere?

WRT the Fermi Paradox and no alien radio signals: We use radio because we have sensors for part of the electromagnetic spectrum, our eyes. This enabled us to observe light, and discover radio all the way from x-rays to VLF etc.

Relativity theory, that limits speed and acceleration, is based upon the properties of electromagnetic radiation. Suppose that the universe contains something else on which we can get no handle because it doesn’t interact with gravity or electromagnetic radiation and we have no sense organ to detect it. But suppose alien beings do have access to this and use it for travel and/or telecommunication. A tribesman using smoke signals to try and communicate with a passing airliner won’t get any result. Neither will humans using radio trying to communicate with aliens.

51 chuck martel December 16, 2017 at 10:33 am

If the portion of the electro-magnetic spectrum used for mobile phone service were visible it would be as if we were in the midst of a continuous lightning storm. And if those waves were a cure for acne there wouldn’t be a pimple on any college campus.

52 clockwork_prior December 16, 2017 at 6:55 am

‘the first object of its kind observed by humans’

Unlikely, just the first object of its kind that we consider to be something from outside of the solar system. The odds that some other interstallar object made any sort of impact observed by humans is really quite high – it is only the last couple of generations that have had the ability to properly identify such an object.

53 Jeff December 16, 2017 at 7:06 am

The shape of the thing is certainly intriguing since most bodies of that size should be spherical. Then again, some have noted that the shape is fairly optimal for such a journey, which begs the question of whether the shape merely means something that survives the trip will tend to look like that?

54 FG December 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm

That shape is optimal if it’s going straight, so that space debris just hits the “nose”. However this thing is apparently tumbling end over end, so the “optimal shape” theory doesn’t help much.

55 rayward December 16, 2017 at 7:56 am

I’m old enough to remember space aliens before Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I know this may come as a shock to younger readers, but before Close Encounters all space aliens were evil and any encounters with them would result in certain death, a horrific death no less. Even efforts at depicting space aliens as less than evil, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, failed the efforts: Klaatu barada nikto, for heavens sake! Let’s pray that Cowen’s prediction for a visit by a space alien (p=0.3) is better than his predictions for the economy.

56 Careless December 16, 2017 at 5:49 pm

Yes, I have heard there was a little-known television show back then called “Star Trek” that was exactly like that

57 JWatts December 17, 2017 at 10:33 pm

“but before Close Encounters all space aliens were evil”

Wow, another swing and a miss by rayward. In edition to Star Trek, another obvious example is Super Man.

58 harpersnotes December 16, 2017 at 8:14 am

‘Specialization is for insects.” – Heinlein. While amusing, like many flip assertions it’s simply wrong. In nature as in university Phd programs specialization is usually favored. Sure there are circumstances were omnivores (strongly opportunistic facultative diet adjusters) and other kinds of generalists can persist. But general ~intelligence~ seems to arise when large enough gene pools of an omnivore species persist over a diverse enough range of habitats for a long enough period of time. So — parrots, corvids, and humans. (Yes, the foraging theory for the evolution of intelligence.) Only the last have thumbs for tools. Of all the primates with thumbs only humans have had a gene pool over large enough and diverse enough and for a long enough period of time to develop general intelligence enough for tool use itself to become a powerful positive-feedback selection force to grow and expand. There are other factors of course, metabolic costs and nutrition, ice ages driving species with mammalian more-easily-scalable configurations of brain structures over diverse habitats … but the conditions for overcoming those additional limiting factors occur regularly in species other than omnivores with gene pools over large diverse habitats (etc.) (Not-so-much omnivores such as dogs cats and dolphins all seem to end up on a fitness peak of around similar heights, and anyway – no thumbs.)

Object Oumuamua? Geology creates many strange structures. (As sculptors make molds of sand and clay to pour hot metal, so I’d imagine possibilities such as lava tubes in the cores of gas giants being filled with liquid metals as well. Then when falling into a neutron star the tube structures being the most likely to survive the maelstrom and occasionally being flung outward.)

59 Seth Africa December 16, 2017 at 9:23 am

The information we have is consistent with the extra-solar object being shaped like a coke bottle, which would suggest the gods must be crazy.

60 dearieme December 16, 2017 at 9:59 am

Just another advantage of the absurd oaf defeating the appalling traitor and racketeer.

61 Edward Burke December 16, 2017 at 10:07 am

The Fermi Paradox is perhaps a perspective only to be entertained terrestrially, by bipedal vertebrates native to this planet: for others a bit more remote, helping to induce the Fermi Panic might be preferable:


(By the way I have a piece of petrified wood that could have served as its own model of ‘Oumuamua, reddish coloration and all.)

62 Cambias December 16, 2017 at 10:47 am

I question the timing.
By that I mean: what are the odds that an interstellar spacecraft (active or derelict) would pass through our Solar System at precisely the earliest era when we can detect it and learn anything about it? If this object had arrived even thirty years ago it would likely have passed without being spotted.
The speed of the object is higher than solar escape velocity, but much much lower than the speed of light. It has been in space a very long time, since before human civilization. That means that (if artificial) it cannot have been launched in response to any detection of human activity, but it could have been sent because its builders noticed Earth had life. Still, the odds that such a probe would arrive at this exact moment are extraordinarily low.
This leaves two possibilities:
1. Either interstellar probes are very common, so that having one pass through your star system every century or so is a routine event — and therefore advanced alien civilizations are also relatively common, which means we ought to be able to detect them by other means.
2. Interstellar asteroids are common, and Oumuamua is a lifeless chunk of rock.
Until we get more data, I’m going with #2.

63 Boonton December 16, 2017 at 11:21 am

“By that I mean: what are the odds that an interstellar spacecraft (active or derelict) would pass through our Solar System at precisely the earliest era when we can detect it and learn anything about it? If this object had arrived even thirty years ago it would likely have passed without being spotted.”

These two odds are exactly the same. The odds of the probe passing through our solar system 30 years before we had the means to detect is exactly the same as the odds that is passed thru today. You could just as easily ask what are the odds that it wouldn’t have passed 30 or 60 years into the future when we might have, perhaps, been able to launch a probe to investigate it close up?

64 T December 16, 2017 at 2:09 pm

A lot of these comments are in need of N Talib. You cannot make statistical inferences based on a one-off.

65 aMichael December 16, 2017 at 11:57 am

This interstellar object might fit well into Fermi’s Paradox in another way. Perhaps our solar system is not entering a part of our galaxy or universe where there are many more objects like these floating around, increasing the chances that one hits our planet, exterminating intelligence life. And thus, we don’t hear from aliens because eventually, a catastrophic event happens due to pockets of junk floating in space somewhere in the galaxy or universe, and intelligent life gets wiped out.

66 Ray Lopez December 16, 2017 at 12:01 pm

TC: “I need to crack open those old Arthur C. Clarke novels” – yes, is that the one where there’s a hollow cylinder that comes to life, is discovered by some astronauts, and they explore it, only to find it is largely a robotic system? With robotic animals and plants. That was a good novella.

67 Lord December 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm

While rotation could provide artificial gravity, tumbling would increase the hazard, so it seems unlikely.

68 Bob December 16, 2017 at 12:55 pm

Its aspect ratio is virtually unknown among asteroids and its perihelion passed inside Mercury’s orbit despite originating from outside the solar system and it’s pretty big and it’s traveling FAST.

Now, leaving aside the hypothesis that it’s an artifact that passed so close to Sol because it was targeted for whatever reason (gravitational assist, probe and/or etc.):

It hasn’t been very long in human history that we’ve been able to detect such objects. It is dark and traveling so fast that it wasn’t around long enough to be detected without a vast number of telescopes by amateurs scanning the heavens. That means objects of this kind could be zipping through our solar system at all kinds of perihelions at a dizzying frequency.

Now, here’s the kicker:

Remember from your high school physics that the energy of an object is proportional to its speed SQUARED. Also, keep in mind that celestial objects tend to be more common the smaller they are.

That means these extrasolar objects could present a far greater threat for extinction events than asteroids or comets originating within the solar system — and that the projects aimed at protecting Earth from asteroids may be not only improperly targeted, but possess woefully inadequate sensor arrays.

69 stephan December 16, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Bitcoin, quantum computing now extraterrestrial visits In the meantime on earth …..there’s a tax bill being voted on

70 Uribe December 16, 2017 at 2:05 pm

What do those looking for a glitch in the simulation make of this object?

71 wiki December 16, 2017 at 4:25 pm

This is surely just a signal to the Robin Hansonian em civilization to reset the stupid Earth simulation.

72 Barkley Rosser December 16, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Something to keep in perspective is that as recently as 1938, within living memory still of quite a few people, there was a massive panic when Orson Welles put on a radio show a version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, with apparently live accounts of hostile Martians having landed and attacking in Tyler’s home state of New Jersey. This is the background for all this huffing about the so-called Fermi Paradox.

Those calculations showing high probability of intelligent life evolving elsewhere remain valid, but indeed SETI has so far only reached a pretty small neighborhood indeed. And if indeed we cannot travel through wormholes or whatever to overcome that speed of light limit, well…

However, clearly p = 0.3 is evidence-based and thus not allowed to be properly described at the CDC anymore, :-).

73 Barkley Rosser December 16, 2017 at 7:09 pm

Regarding the matter of the nature of possible alien civilizations, while there are certainly plenty of hostile “Independence Day”/”War of the Worlds” possibilities, my bet is that if in fact there is some benevolent superstellar civilization a la “Contact” indeed this would probably depend on there being some profoundly important levels of scientific knowledge out there we do understand yet, which would suggest that a “running out of science” bases theory of secular stagnation is wrong. If what we know is getting close to what it is possible to know, forget any serious contact with any alien civilizations.

This probably does not fit that, but it has occurred to me that a possible explanation for all the late 40s and early 50s UFO sightings is that there is such a civilization, and that as a natural matter they keep track of developments on “primitive” planets, with the discovery of nuclear power being the sort of thing that would attract their attention to come and check on us.

As it is, my science-based estimate of that being true is p = 0.0007286, :-).

74 A clockwork orange December 16, 2017 at 7:06 pm

perhaps your peculiar fascination with probability has created an anthropic apposition that then rendered your professional deformation obsolete, as a fiery-eyed Northern goshawk once said to Clyde, in the shade of their lemon tree, which Clyde had planted with a golden trowel one discontented summer in 8,437.

75 A clockwork orange December 16, 2017 at 9:02 pm
76 Li Zhi December 17, 2017 at 1:42 am

Let’s see. TC claims it is the first extrasolar object seen by us. It was written elsewhere that astronomers estimate there may be one of these visitors a year. If the species (“us”) has existed for 200,000 years, it may actually be the first, but the fact that it was actually seen suggests they’re fairly common (since most of them shouldn’t ever get close enough or large enough (or bright enough) to be seen by the naked eye). Personally, I find assertions that can never be proven nor disproved more appropriate for Freshman bull sessions before they’re taught how to think. I guess what he should have said it that it is the first which has been credibly claimed (based on observation) to be extra solar, the first IDENTIFIED – NOT the first “seen”.
Apparently, TC is a theist, since otherwise (unless he is a technical dolt) the possibility of us “visiting” the penis shaped object is effectively zero. (or perhaps that’s what he meant by “not much”) (TC: its moving away from us with a speed which we can’t match…you think that might cause a delay in us visiting it?) As far as the so-called Fermi paradox, it’s only a paradox if you insist that most technological civilizations have interests similar to ours. Here’s something to ponder: Consider the project Breakthough Starshot except aimed at us. 1000 probes, each with negligible mass but with a sail of 20 m² (assume it is effectively a 2 dimensional mirror). How likely are we to see any of them as they pass by? Assume they’re uniformly distributed as they penetrate the solar system out to say 30 AU (I doubt they’d be that accurate, but what the heck). My guess is we’d have a very low probability of actually seeing them reflect Sunlight. Someone want to do the math? I’m basing my guess on the idea that the StarChips will be essential invisible except at the exactly right angle where their mirror-film reflects sunlight towards Earth. I’m incompetent to calculate what the likely intensity of that light could be, even if you assume the mirror-film is a nearly (99.9%) perfect reflector. (and assume the back of the film is just as reflective as the front (facing the source)). Anyway, seems to me the Fermi paradox suggests that either there aren’t any more interesting things to do with the resources a civilization would have to spend to saturate its neighborhood of the Milky Way every say 300 years with interstellar probes. Calculate the energy spent sending 1000 to each of them. Talk about global warming! (See xkcd.com/1298 for a diagram of the estimated habitable planets withing 60 ly of Earth). Seems to me the guys who actually did try to send out probes must have gone extinct due to the drain on their resources…

77 Yancey Ward December 17, 2017 at 2:52 am

From a planet orbiting a star about 100 light years away:

Zorboat the Slitherer: “Excellent shot, your most exalted Matrix Subhead Jorafo the Oozey, but still just a near miss. Perhaps you should release just a bit later on the next try.”

78 Jonathan December 17, 2017 at 3:31 am

Isn’t solution to Fermi paradox that it is just easier to lose yourself in virtual worlds ( think what computer games will be like in 20years) than messy business of building spacecraft travelling vast distances looking at various bits of rock getting overexcited about discovering water etc vs Grand Theft auto 2037?

79 Denis Drew December 17, 2017 at 10:04 am

Fermi did not have television — least of all HDTV. Look at your TV screen and extrapolate a hundred years more communications progress. Why will anyone want to thrust their mortal coil across the infinitude (or a few hundred light years anyway) to go exploring — while everyone is having (no-death life) at home? Everything to explore in the universe is right here (not counting funny animals) — this is the universe here (see Fermi lab). We may get machines — we may have got machines (see UFOs) — but don’t expect little green men who covet our minerals.

There may be less intelligent life out there than we expect, too. Every 26 million years for the last 260 million years there has been a vast wipe out of species on Earth. Apparently from a comet or asteroid storm possibly caused by a circulating star (tentatively named “Nemesis”). Perhaps without this evolution super-charge it would take a lot longer than the life of our sun (only half way through now) for intelligent life to evolve just by normal progression of mutations.

80 Denis Drew December 17, 2017 at 10:43 am

The Pentagon Spent $22 Million in Under-the-Radar Program to Study UFOs
By Daniel Politi Dec. 16, 2017, 5:03 PM

“For around five years, the Pentagon had a program to specifically look into reports of UFO sightings known as the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program.”

(; )

81 Michael Caton December 17, 2017 at 1:02 pm

It’s not a first. We’ve verified interstellar objects in our solar system. The Stardust Mission over 10 years ago sampled (and brought back) material from the Wild-2 comet, and the nitrogen isotope ratio strongly suggests it’s an extrasolar object. Actually somewhat disappointing in terms of teaching us anything about the early life of our own solar system, but very cool nonetheless.

82 Michael Caton December 17, 2017 at 1:09 pm

Touching on several other comments here – there is relatively frequent (in geologic time) likely admixture between adjacent stars’ Oort clouds as proper motion causes close passes (on the order of 1 per 100 kA), so it’s likely that other interstellar material has moved/is moving through the solar system, or maybe even trapped in it, like the Wild-2 comet. This may be a way that artifacts, especially self-replicating ones (von Neumann probes) diffuse between star systems. Agree that it is overwhelmingly less likely that we will meet aliens as opposed to alien machines, ones adapted for interstellar travel and LONG periods of dormancy, as they spread between stars.

83 Warren Platts December 18, 2017 at 7:28 pm

This object is very odd: (1) it is cigar shaped; (2) it is not icy, in contrast to our expectations; (3) it hit the bullseye not just once, but twice:

If the solar system were scaled to a dartboard, the close passage to the Sun was not only within the inner bulls ring, it was dead center, with an error much, much less than the width of the dart tip.

And then, due to the gravitation of the Sun, the object was sent on a trajectory towards Earth, where it went even closer. So it’s like if someone walked up to a dartboard, then threw a deadcenter bulls, and then threw a deadcenter triple 20, to much, much less than the width of the dart tip.

Honestly, if we were sending a probe to analyze another system, we would choose a very similar trajectory. It does look as if it were designed….

84 John de Rivaz December 19, 2017 at 4:59 am

Similar arguments are used to suggest that the Earth was designed, (I would presume this to be for the designer’s entertainment, like The Simms). However the theory of evolution suggests otherwise, unless a designer used that method as a tool of design.

However one fact is missing. How many of these objects have passed through the Solar System over the lifetime of the Earth? If that number is very large, then the probability of one taking the trajectory of ‘Ourmuamua is not so unusual as to suggest it has been the deliberate act of alien being from another world. Also no one can say with certainty that it is cigar shaped. It could be Iapetus shaped – that flashes as it rotates. It is just a shame that there is no way of imaging it.

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