Physics, Earth & Space
‘Oumuamua, Space Visitor, Shows Intelligent Design at Work
The oblong space object ‘Oumuamua, currently whistling through our Solar System at 196,000 mph, shows intelligent design in action. How so? Well, what is ID, after all, but a scientific project focused on examining objects and phenomena in nature for evidence reflecting purpose and design by an intelligent agent. The researchers listening to the 800-feet-long space visitor for radio signals — they’ve detected none so far — are simply practicing the science of ID.
This visitor was initially assumed to be an asteroid, and sadly that’s likely all it is. From the Washington Post:
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 is it?
Some scientists, though they are swift to say ‘Oumuamua is probably natural, have not yet ruled out more extraordinary origins. “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.
‘Oumuamua behaves oddly. Planets and asteroids circle the sun on the same plane, like water swirling around a basin. ‘Oumuamua dipped into the solar system from outside the plane, as if leaked from a cosmic faucet.
It is shaped strangely, too. Most asteroids of this size are spherical. This object has the proportions of a giant cucumber. In fact, Harvard University astronomer Avi Loeb recently told [Yuri] Milner that ‘Oumuamua has the optimal design of a vessel meant to travel through space, the Atlantic reported.
Yet all of its features are “entirely consistent with being a natural object,” said Karen Meech, the University of Hawaii astronomer who led the research team to measure ‘Oumuamua’s physical properties. [Emphasis added.]
What’s that about “optimal design”? Evidently, the features are not “entirely consistent” with being nothing more than a rock, otherwise there would be nothing so fascinating to investigate. It’s “probably natural,” yet clearly there are enough indications counter to that (the behavior, the “design”) that scientists want to check it out as it slips away.
‘Oumuamua means “messenger” in Hawaiian. What’s the “message”? Maybe one is that ID is a term for something scientists do all the time. Applied to a probable asteroid, ID is uncontroversial. Applied to much more awesome objects – the human brain, for example — it suddenly becomes controversial, “pseudoscience”? Quick, would someone please explain away the obvious contradiction there?
The highly unusual asteroid is currently headed in the direction of Jupiter’s orbit, having passed that of Mars. Now this is what Wikipedia is really good for:
On the outward leg of its journey through the Solar System, ʻOumuamua passed below the orbit of Earth on 14 October at a distance of approximately 0.1616 AU(24,180,000 km; 15,020,000 mi) from Earth and passed above the orbit of Mars on 1 November 2017. It will pass above Jupiter’s orbit in May 2018, Saturn’s orbit in January 2019, and Neptune’s orbit in 2022. As it leaves the Solar System it will be approximately right ascension (RA) 23h51m and declination +24°45′, in Pegasus. It will continue to slow down until it reaches a speed of 26.33 km/s relative to the Sun, the same speed it had before its approach to the Solar System. It will take the object roughly 20,000 years to leave the Solar System completely.
I don’t have a problem with its being alien technology. Obviously that would be the most exciting news of our lifetimes if it were true. Yet for proponents of ID, it would change nothing. The discovery of ETs would not undermine the case for the design of terrestrial life one bit. With Discovery Institute biologist Michael Denton, on the other hand, we would predict that ETs should be creatures not totally unlike ourselves. The universe seems specially designed to host such beings. I’m just musing here, but if the intelligent aliens were not like us, that could as a surprise. Yet if there are in the cosmos multiple “privileged species” (notice how the noun “species” can be singular or plural), that’s fine.
The situation for Darwinists is very different. They must have aliens. For them, human life cannot be unique, cannot be special. If an unguided process like evolution, fueled by randomness, produced life on Earth, it must have done so elsewhere, countless times over.
So it makes sense that folks with a materialist perspective watch ‘Oumuamua not only with curiosity, as we do, but with a touch of anxiety as well. For them, the silence of the stars is a profound and ongoing problem.
Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser (http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1737a/) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.