Two Harvard researchers who suggested last month a mysterious space object viewed tumbling past the sun last year, known as Oumuamua, could be an alien spacecraft has made such theories respectable, NBC News reported Tuesday.
Although there has also been much skepticism toward the theory among the scientific community, Jason Wright, a Penn State astronomer who recently launched a graduate program in SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) insists "there's a real culture change. SETI is becoming a serious scientific discipline."
Prof. Avi Loeb, chairman of Harvard's astronomy department, said he used a mathematical analysis of how the object sped up as it shot past the sun, and argued Oumuamua could be a spacecraft pushed through space by light falling on its surface. However, he and his partner, Shmuel Bialy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, admit their theory is an "exotic" one.
When it became the subject of ridicule among some colleagues, Loeb insisted his academic position obligates him to stir the pot.
"The whole idea of getting tenure is to allow you to be free in your mind," he said. "I used the opportunity of Oumuamua to make a statement."
Wright argues for searching through existing astronomical data to seek stars whose strange behavior could indicate the presence of alien construction projects, insisting "there are many rich datasets sitting out there to look through."
Loeb said this is exactly the sort of unfettered curiosity he wanted to spark with his Oumuamua hypothesis.
"Why have a prejudice? Why argue that it must be natural? What do we gain, other than putting blinders on our eyes?" he asked.