Stand by for news from outer space: news the government never said it was collecting or considered important, perhaps because people who take UFOs too seriously risk ridicule sooner or later. That taboo is lifting. It will be Pentagon science and intelligence reporting this summer of 2021, on “unidentified aerial phenomena,” not just UFOs. Don’t expect to hear recorded alien voices, but the news could well be presented as solid evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Consider, for example, the glowing sliver of who-knows-what that sailed past our sun in 2017 at unearthly speed, unpowered, unexplained. You could take it, like a pop bottle on a barren beach, to be telling you we’ve had a visitor. We’re not alone in the cosmos.
A new version of an old space race is on again, scanning the heavens for the truth about us. Ezekiel started it in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet who saw a wheel in a wheel, way up in the middle of the air—in the Black American spiritual, “the big wheel runs by faith, the little wheel runs by the grace of God.” Those wheels were the first unidentified flying objects in our culture, representing perhaps this life and eternity. In 21st-century science, the question (and it’s not just scientific) is how would we get to know what’s out there? Who’s watching? Who cares? A Pentagon task force is scheduled this month to open a deep file it never before confirmed that it kept: an array of sightings and Navy pilots’ videos; shards of alien objects; reports, as they say, from “credible observers of relatively incredible things.” And we’re looking this radio hour at one instance of the puzzle. Call the puzzle ‘Oumuamua, the name astronomers gave to an interstellar phenomenon that cruised past our sun at supersonic speed in 2017. Our guest, the Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, made a book of it, titled Extraterrestrial, about a visitor like none other. A mystery and a surprise, it was the best evidence yet, Avi Loeb decided, of an extraterrestrial intelligence.
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