3/17/20: OUMUAMUA – CHASING RAMA

MONOLOGUE WRITTEN BY CLYDE LEWIS

Tonight, I have decided to break away from talking about coronavirus. While the death toll rises and the government locks us in our homes, I thought it would be more interesting for all us who feel like shut-ins to get a dose of some pretty cool news that lends itself to some “one-on-one” story telling.

Hopefully something the margins will put some minds into a whole new world to explore only because there are other interesting stories out there that expand the imagination.

Many think that there is no room for the paranormal; however, I have always illustrated that the normal news sometimes is distracting from the strange news and the hunches that remain in the margins because they seem so unbelievable.

It can be exhausting to give the statistics, the body counts, and continually uncover the lies that are being spread in order to keep us transfixed in a state of fear.

One of the biggest liars we have to deal with is ourselves – all of the hopes we have, the fears, the biases, and psychological defenses, that in a clandestine way try to distort our perception of the world and how we react to it.

The mind has to be open and objective. No one has to compromise ethics or core beliefs, however, we all would benefit from a reasonable compromise between being naively trusting and pathologically paranoid.

There are many people we trust who are telling us the truth, but when it comes to sensitive material, or matters or national security, the public has to understand there are limits to what the alphabet agencies call “Intelligence.”

That is why it may be beneficial to do the work yourself, meaning not relying heavily on the messenger but become someone who can testify to the validity of what can be called paranormal activity by experimenting with it all by yourself or with a small group.

Your findings may surprise you.

Although you must realize that during your experiment, the universe never just hands you a bundle of paranormal proof. Sometimes it can be a daunting task that takes a lot of times. Days can go by, or weeks or even month where something that can be shown as compelling evidence can be dropped in your lap.

Until then, we always end up with what can be called cosmic breadcrumbs. Scraps of what are pieces of the puzzle rather than the whole puzzle.

These may be valuable and every little bit, every dot connected can lead you to a major discovery or answer questions you may have about the world, albeit the paranormal world that surrounds you.

As a ‘paranormalphile’ I find myself going in and out of the extraordinary because of many distractions of conspiracy and cover-up that emerge in the news every day.

That is why tonight I want to break away from all of the COVID-19 dread and try to propose a ray of hope or at least an idea that will somehow satisfy some of our lofty dreams of trying to find that elusive alien in the cosmic haystack.

If we survive the 21st Century and if kids end up 100 years from now in schools or if they learn in some other capacity, I am sure they will not only be taught about COVID-19 and the great American collapse they will also read about the way science haphazardly approached the question about whether or not we are lone in the Universe.

They will read about how the military became forthright about encounters with UFOs and how the armies of the world stepped in and provided resources for the Space Force to not only monitor the increase of near earth objects and asteroid falls but to also protect the impressive satellite infrastructure used to monitor the world and its centralized government.

It will be a future that we have seen before, something akin to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

A future that maintains a  Hitlerian Social structure that keeps the inhabitants of Earth in line. Between Orwell’s 1984, and Huxley’s Brave New World the seeds have been where many science fiction writers could see the political structure deteriorating long before the doomsayers of today.

The future in Heinlein’s vision is right up there with Huxley and Orwell but it plays well as a metaphor in most respects to what is happening now in our reality of 2020 chaos.

Again, we see a science fiction vision of a dystopian world with a hyper-jingoistic, ultra-violent attitude towards war, propaganda, foreign relations – putting a negligible value on human life.

It is a world in which you only exist if you’re a fully functioning member of society, or “Citizen of the World Federation” in the story’s own terms.

The film, Starship Troopers, was equally aggressive in its metaphors with giant bugs that can be seen as unknown invading terrorists – or a metaphoric illustration of a “bug” or pathogen similar to what we are fighting now.

It is just one observation and its certainly not the only way to look at the dystopian science fiction that all seems to be manifesting from day-to-day.

But I am serious about how I believe that if our progeny survive they look back at us with and awkward B-movie fascination.

I was reading an article on one of my favorite websites that also predicted that students of the future would also giggle in science class when they are asked to memorize a word that we have learned recently and that’s the strange name for the interstellar object, Oumuamua.

Like it or not this interstellar object has created more discussion among scientists because of the speculation that it could be an alien artifact.

Oumuamua was discovered in October of 2017 by Robert Weryk at the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii.

It is recognized as the first object of unquestionable interstellar origin to ever intrude into our solar system –we know this because of the highly eccentric orbit it displayed in contrast to the ecliptic plane that most bodies in the system follow when orbiting around the Sun.

It was a cigar-shaped object about twice the size of the Eiffel Tower was booking it past Earth at nearly 60,000 miles per hour—and appeared to be accelerating.

Its bizarre features led astronomers to conclude that it was a cosmic interloper: it was either a giant chunk of rock that was formed in another star system and blasted on a journey through interstellar space billions of years ago or it was as some have suggested, the remains of an interstellar ghost ship or perhaps an active Bracewell Sentinel that was at radio silence as it moved past the sun and our earth.

Before its official name was decided upon, the name Rama was put forward – a reference to the alien spacecraft discovered under similar circumstances in Arthur C. Clarke’s 1973 science fiction novel, Rendezvous with Rama.

In Clarke’s novel, there is a group much like Space Force called Spaceguard. The fictional near-future Earth government operation is looking for asteroids in the wake of a major disaster in 2077, when an asteroid struck Italy. Spaceguard first detects a strange interstellar object—later named “Rama” after the Hindu god in year 2131.

An interesting coincidence is that both Rama and Oumuamua were given names from nonwestern cultures. 

Rama, like ’Oumuamua, comes from interstellar space and will return there after passing through our solar system, and is thought at first to be an asteroid. However, images from an unmanned probe sent to Rama reveal that it is a perfect cylinder 34 miles long and 12 miles in diameter.

Only one ship in Earth’s space fleet is close enough to reach Rama before it leaves the solar system. That ship, the solar survey vessel Endeavor, is sent to intercept the alien craft. When they reach Rama the Endeavor scientists find their way inside through one of three airlocks grouped together. They discover the object has a hollow interior with a breathable atmosphere; the cylinder’s rotation also provides artificial gravity. They find “cities” full of “buildings” and machines but no sign of whoever built the object.

When Rama starts preparing to accelerate out of the solar system, the scientists retreat back to the Endeavor with little understanding of the purpose or workings of the discoveries they’ve made. 

Without spoiling the book, the men that explore Rama find what they are looking for but can’t believe that something that advanced wants nothing to do with human kind.

The only difference between Oumuamua and Rama is that when Oumuamua bolted away from earth we did not make any attempts to chase it down and find out what it really was—and so our feeble scientists just called it a comet –albeit a comet that had none of the characteristics of one.

To make things even more confusing, the varying light emitted by this not-comet suggested Oumuamua was at least 10 times as long as it was thick. How could this “interstellar pole” retain its fragile form for so long?

Again not very characteristic of a comet.

And then there was the final insult to our knowledge about errant astronomical bodies, observed in June of last year: new data from the Hubble telescope confirmed Oumuamua’s velocity had increased during its rendezvous with the inner solar system, in ways that could not be explained by simple celestial mechanics and gravitational influences.

Since then, though, speculation has cooled off somewhat – and it is now generally accepted that ‘Oumuamua’ is a strangely elongated, mostly inert comet traveling at huge speeds due to its origin beyond our Solar System, somewhere in interstellar space.

Of course this was the final hypothesis – it never fails that the academic community tends to behave in some unnecessarily pious way when confronted by a scientific mystery: They cop an attitude of contempt for any kind of novel ideas, especially when it comes to the possibility about alien life.

They always give an official arrogantly delivered response of “it can’t be an alien ship therefore it isn’t” attitude. It’s almost as if we are so certain there’s no one else out there, we keep on looking for signs we’re not alone without really expecting to find anything.

 Then there are those who you think would love to explore the possibilities of what might be officially write off any and all talk about aliens or anything dealing with E.T.I. but are willing to accept the grant money from some investor that is willing to throw caution or their reputation to the wind.

We reported in 2017 and  in the aftermath that SETI investigators Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak  conducted a study investigating whether there are any radio signals being emitted from Oumuamua.

However, President Trump was notified that scientists were following this craft and that rumor has it that this event came close to being a disclosure event. After hearing about the remote possibility of this elongated object was an alien space craft, he started pushing harder for the establishment of the “Space Force.”

After we were informed that the Pentagon was investigating the threat assessment of Unidentified flying objects a meeting was called by the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe. The meeting was held at the University of California, Irvine.

It was at this meeting that Astrophysicist Jill Tarter, one of the world’s best-known leaders in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, stated that the so-called SETI program will have to be renamed.

Tarter explained that the phrase “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” generates an incorrect perception of what scientists in this field of study were actually doing. A more appropriate title for the field, she said, would be “the search for technosignatures,” or signs of technology created by intelligent alien civilizations.

To me, this meant that secretly these scientists who scan space for space signals from extraterrestrial civilizations may have stumbled on something that may be a signal from extraterrestrial technology rather than direct conversations between biological entities.

Eavesdropping on a conversation between alien civilizations would be fascinating, but detecting an alien signal with a technological signal may be forthcoming; however, there would have to be a staff put in place that would be capable of interpreting the signal and its signature.

If a technological signal was detected who would be there to detect or learn the nuances of what the signal means?

Astronomers paused their collective hand from scratching their collective head only to make that hand into an angry fist when they read a truly bold and controversial paper co-written in November of last year by Abraham (Avi) Loeb, chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department, and his postdoctoral student Shmuel Bialy. The paper was very rigorous in its math and the scientific assertions it proposed, and at the same time it did something no-one else in the scientific community dared to do: Suggest Oumuamua was in fact an ancient solar sail built by an extraterrestrial civilization and deliberately sent to intercept our solar neighborhood.

Loeb has been persistent in saying that what the mysterious object may have been our first encounter with an extraterrestrial artifact.

A recent article in Wired has now suggested that scientists should actually chase down Oumuamua much like the Spaceguard did in Aurthur Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama.

A mission to the mysterious object is technically feasible– but many scientists say that even if we can do it the question is should we?

Oumuamua was the first interstellar object ever detected in our solar system. For the last three years there’s been a steady stream of research papers hypothesizing about its origin, its chemistry, and even the possibility that it might be an alien spacecraft. The  object  is rapidly receding into deep space, which makes it difficult to observe using telescopes on Earth. This means that many of the questions about ‘Oumuamua may never be answered—unless, of course, we send a spacecraft to intercept it.

This is the goal of Project Lyra, a mission proposed by a British nonprofit called the Initiative for Interstellar Studies, which funds education and research projects focused on taking us to the stars. The group announced Project Lyra just two weeks after ‘Oumuamua’s discovery and in May of this year , Acta Astronautica will publish the updated version of their proposed mission to chase down the object in order to lift the mystery.

Oumuamua is currently moving away from Earth at nearly twice the speed of Voyager 1, the fastest spacecraft ever built. The asteroid travels about 500 million miles per year—the average distance between the Earth and Jupiter—which means it will enter interstellar space sometime in the late 2030s.

To catch up with the asteroid, Project Lyra proposes launching a spacecraft on one of the world’s most powerful rockets—either SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy or NASA’s forthcoming Space Launch System—and using gravity assists from Jupiter and the sun to slingshot the craft toward the asteroid. The spacecraft would be outfitted with a rocket booster that would fire as it whipped around the sun to help bring it up to speed.

For the sake of comparison, Voyager 1, which has gone deeper into interstellar space than any human made object in history, has traveled 15 billion miles in 40 years. The Project Lyra spacecraft would have to travel 20 billion miles in half that time.

Project Lyra’s new mission proposal suggests launching the spacecraft as soon as 2030. It would intercept ‘Oumuamua around 2049 when the asteroid is about five times farther from the sun than Pluto.

Unfortunately, many of us who are older will never find out the truth but again this will be for the future and we do not know what we will discover before then and what other interstellar objects will come our way – Oumuamua is just one of many, of course.

Marshall Eubanks, the chief scientist at Space Initiatives, a company working on small satellite systems, and a coauthor of the new Project Lyra paper, sees the mission as a stepping stone toward more ambitious interstellar missions. For example, Breakthrough Starshot, an interstellar mission bankrolled by the billionaire Yuri Milner, wants to use giant lasers to send a fleet of thumbnail-sized probes to our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. Eubanks says that an interstellar mission to ‘Oumuamua would be “far easier” than travelling to Alpha Centauri. But he acknowledges that the mission would still face a host of challenges, including simply finding ‘Oumuamua in the wilderness of interstellar space.

Avi Loeb, is the Chairman, of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee and again believes that there is more to the Oumuamua story.

Loeb’s hypothesis has helped to highlight how in the cutting-edge areas of science, we tend to punish innovative thinking instead of encouraging it.

Scientists are being conditioned to stick to what is accepted by the status quo in order to protect their careers. Only the older scientists who are sufficiently shielded from professional suicide by having already achieved enough recognition, or won enough prizes and medals, are the ones brave enough to dare to say “what if” out loud.

With that kind of rationale, we are less likely to make any major breakthroughs.

At this point, any interstellar mission is a longshot that must overcome a host of technical challenges and funding dilemmas. If the goal is simply to visit an interstellar object, we’d probably be better off waiting for them to come to us, rather than chasing them beyond the solar system—maybe Oumuamua was the one that got away or perhaps not.

Intercepting an interstellar object that is passing near Earth is all about timing. With enough advance warning it’d be relatively easy to launch a spacecraft from Earth with enough speed to intercept an interloper.

Last year, the European Space Agency approved the Comet Interceptor mission, which may be the first spacecraft to do a flyby of an interstellar object. In 2028, the Comet Interceptor will be launched to L2, a point in space where the gravitational pull of the Earth and sun cancel each other out. L2 is essentially a parking lot for spacecraft, and the Comet Interceptor will hang out there until it finds a juicy target, either a pristine comet making its first journey into the inner solar system, or an interstellar object.

When the Comet Interceptor approaches its mark, it will split up into three smaller spacecraft. One will keep its distance, taking photos and collecting data about 600 miles from the comet. The other two will plunge toward the comet’s nucleus to sample the gas and dust flying off its surface and measure its magnetic field. The Comet Interceptor will help scientists get a better idea of how our solar system formed by studying a preserved piece of its early history. And if the comet happens to be an interstellar object, it would provide a window into the formation of an alien solar system.

Although the Initiative for Interstellar Studies plans to publish designs for a Project Lyra spacecraft, there’s no indication that it will ever be built. Even if it’s technically feasible on paper, it would cost a lot of money to chase an asteroid beyond the solar system. Advanced spacecraft for interstellar travel have been proposed by independent organizations in the past, but they never came to fruition.

Yet now that NASA officials are seriously contemplating interstellar travel, concepts like Project Lyra may stoke the radical thinking needed for a dedicated mission beyond the solar system.

Project Lyra is likely to end up being a thought experiment or a conversation-starter rather than the blueprint for an actual mission.

I mean, NASA keeps pushing a manned moon landing farther out of reach, which begs the question if we are not seeking out new life trying to find new civilizations then what’s the point of going into space at all?

 

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