Houghton Mifflin; January 26, 2021
240 pages (ebook)
5 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
” Life is absurd. “
In October 2017, astronomers at the Haleakalā Observatory in Hawaii discovered something not of our solar system. The object—since named ’Oumuamua after the Hawaiian word for scout or first—had already rounded the sun, only detected after it sped past Earth and was on its way out of our system once more. It was quickly determined that this was something we as people had never seen before; an interstellar visitor to our solar system, the first ever detected.
But this was something we had never seen before for another reason.
Instead of rotating smoothly, the object tumbled and spun through space, albeit at an incredible rate of speed. It was fairly small; under 1 km in length and maybe a tenth of that in width and thickness. It showed no signs of a coma—the nebulous envelop surrounding a comet which gives it its fuzzy appearance—nor did it share the shape of any asteroid that scientists knew of. It left no trail of gas or debris, and showed signs of non-gravitational acceleration (it sped up attempting to escape getting trapped in our Sun’s orbit), neither of which are heard of for an asteroid or comet. So what was it?
Scientists initially waffled between asteroid or comet, but once it was identified as an extrasolar object, they began pitching wilder theories. In addition to the remnant of a planet, a rogue satellite, or an exocomet (a comet that escaped orbit from another star)—astronomers began to speculate it might be an alien object.
Now, if you don’t know much about serious astronomers, know this: they generally don’t react well to the topic of alien life. Most don’t even take it seriously. Others take it as a joke, or an insult, or a stigma. Other scientists that genuinely suggest or search for extraterrestrial life are often regarded with derision, pity, skepticism, and even hostility. I know I’m generalizing this a bit, but it’s not an uncommon reaction for astronomers to scoff at the mention of alien life.
So in the summer of 2019, when scientists affirmed that ‘Oumuamua was of a purely natural origin, effectively closing the manner, it was no surprise. But by then Avi Loeb was already writing his book.
Israeli born American Avi Loeb is the former Chair of Astronomy at Harvard, an astronomer of renown, and proponent of extraterrestrial life. His book, Extraterrestrial, is an examination of ‘Oumuamua as Loeb sees it as: proof of alien life.
Honestly, I started out bashing this book. The ostentatious tone, the use of academic language, the fact that he introduces his biography in the second chapter, whatever. But by Chapter 3, Extraterrestrial how already won me over.
Mostly because Loeb makes a really good case.
I’ve always been fascinated by the unknown. That’s what led me astronomy, archaeology, and the other pursuits I’ve taken in my professional life. It’s what has drawn me to scifi and fantasy in my personal life, mostly in the form of books and games. So, maybe I’m not impartial on the existence of aliens (I believe in them, for the same reason that Loeb points out: “With billions upon billions of worlds in our galaxy alone, it seems arrogant not to”). But it’s still enough to recommend the book on the basis of scientific curiosity alone.
I mean, it’s a really thorough argument. While Loeb does tell us a decent amount about his life—his upbringing in Israel, his early professional work, and research papers and investigations of late—everything colors his opinion of the existence of extraterrestrial life. More to the point, why he gravitates toward the idea that so many of his colleagues shun. In addition to his life, there’s quite a bit of background into techniques and events that common folk may not be well read on. But it is a science book, and there’s quite a bit of science in it. If you’re not strong on astronomy, math and physics, some parts of Extraterrestrial might be over your head. There were a few paragraphs that were borderline for me, and, I’m not going to lie, I had to look some things up. But if you’re interested in potential scientific evidence of aliens, anything astronomy, or science fiction with grounds in reality, I’d implore you to check this out. It’s really quite good.
Is ‘Oumuamua proof of extraterrestrial life? The exosolar object whizzed through our system in late 2017, but left a trail of questions in its wake. But is this the evidence of aliens that we’ve been waiting for? While most of the scientific community would scoff at the idea, Avi Loeb would have you believe it is. Through this book he argues his case—through math, astronomy, history, events, circumstance, and more—so that by the end, either you leave more swayed to his opinion, or thoroughly pissed at his arrogance. Personally, I quite liked it, and would recommend. While it may not be for the faint of heart (or the unscientific and uninitiated), Extraterrestrial is a deep and fascinating read that pushes the bounds of imagination, and births way more questions than it provides answers, keeping you curious for days, weeks or even years to come.