Get the key ideas from

Extraterrestrial

The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth

By Avi Loeb
13-minute read
Audio available
Extraterrestrial by Avi Loeb

Extraterrestrial (2021) is an examination of ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever detected. This provocative overview argues that this strange object could be a piece of alien technology. 

  • Amateur astronomers fascinated by ‘Oumuamua
  • Sci-fi fans interested in a little science fact
  • Anyone who wants to believe in life beyond Earth

Avi Loeb is the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University, chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, and chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He has authored more than 700 scientific papers on space, astronomy, and astrophysics.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
4,500+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from

Extraterrestrial

The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth

By Avi Loeb
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Extraterrestrial by Avi Loeb
Synopsis

Extraterrestrial (2021) is an examination of ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar object ever detected. This provocative overview argues that this strange object could be a piece of alien technology. 

Key idea 1 of 8

‘Oumuamua is unusual for visiting from beyond our solar system.

October 19, 2017. The astronomer Robert Weryk is poring through data collected by the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, or Pan-STARRS for short, a network of telescopes that sits atop the mountains of Maui, in Hawaii. As he looks at the day’s observations, he notices something strange.

Pan-STARRS has picked up an object jetting away from the Sun at 58,900 miles per hour. At such speeds, the object is set to soon leave our solar system forever. Yet, the object’s trajectory is even more interesting. Judging by its path, it appears that it must have come from outside our solar system!

Weryk is stunned. He’s just stumbled upon the first interstellar object ever detected by mankind.

The key message here is: ‘Oumuamua is unusual for visiting from beyond our solar system.

When Weryk delivered the news of his discovery to the International Astronomical Union, they dubbed the object ‘Oumuamua. This Hawaiian word roughly translates to “a messenger from afar arriving first,” or more simply, “scout.” It’s a fitting name, as ‘Oumuamua is the first nearby object – astronomically speaking – ever detected that does not have origins within our solar system.

So, if ‘Oumuamua isn’t a local, where is it from? Well, we don’t know exactly. What we do know is that it comes from the direction of Vega, a star located about 25 light-years away. We also know that it entered our solar system on a hyperbolic trajectory. This means that it doesn’t orbit the Sun like an asteroid or comet, but instead, it comes from the outer reaches of space, passes by the Sun once, and then escapes off into space again.

Prior to detecting ‘Oumuamua, astronomers had observed both objects within our solar system and objects very far away, like distant stars and planets. Yet, they had never seen an item from interstellar space pass through our solar neighborhood. Of course, they knew it was possible. Humans themselves have already launched five objects into interstellar space, including the Voyager, Pioneer, and New Horizons space probes.

Since this initial discovery, scientists working at Pan-STARRS have already discovered several more interstellar objects swinging by our Sun. Yet, ‘Oumuamua still stands out – and not simply because it was the first object found. In fact, ‘Oumuamua has many particular qualities and unusual traits that leave scientists puzzled. We’ll look at those in the next blink.

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

Key ideas in this title

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

Learn more, live more

Sign up now to learn and grow every day with the key ideas from top nonfiction and podcasts in 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.