CAMBRIDGE, MA – JANUARY, 28: Avi Loeb, physicist at Harvard University, poses for a portrait by his office in Cambridge, MA on January 29, 2019. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

There was a meme doing the rounds at the tail end of 2020 that showed a bunch of aliens standing around, alongside the caption, “We’re up next, f*** I’m nervous.”

It was designed to poke fun at the dumpster fire that was last year, the punchline being that after everything else 2020 offered up, it would only make sense that aliens came next.

The encore no one asked for.

But as the joke circulated online, there was one person who wasn’t laughing, Harvard Professor Avi Loeb. Loeb has been the chair of Harvard University’s astronomy department since 2011 and is set to release his latest book, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth on January 26th.

The book deals exclusively with the appearance of a mysterious interstellar object, known as Oumuamua, that was observed passing through the solar system on October 19, 2017. This object wasn’t your stock standard meteor, space rock or comet, it was a peculiar shape and design, and, most interestingly, it appeared to speed up as it neared Earth.

While many in the scientific community were quick to downplay the relevance of this discovery, Harvard’s Professor Loeb was not. Professor Loeb set about investigating what the object meant, eventually coming to the conclusion that Oumuamua was far more than just another space trash.

It was proof that aliens exist.

ICON: When did you first learn of Oumuamua?

Avi Loeb: It was discovered on October 19, 2017, and a week later I learned of its existence. As time passed all the new information implied that it was like nothing we’ve seen before.

This very deep combined image shows the interstellar asteroid ‘Oumuamua at the centre of the picture. It is surrounded by the trails of faint stars that are smeared as the telescopes tracked the moving asteroid. This image was created by combining multiple images from ESO’s Very Large Telescope as well as the Gemini South Telescope. The object is marked with a blue circle and appears to be a point source, with no surrounding dust.

ICON: How so?

AL: Well, it looked nothing like asteroids or comets that belong to the solar system. That’s unusual and strange because if it came from another planetary system, it should look like a comet. But it didn’t.

ICON: What did it look like?

AL: Some people suggested it was shaped like a cigar, but I think it was most likely flat based on the changing reflective light.

ICON: When did you start to hypothesise the object was extraterrestrial?

AL: One thing we noticed was that the brightness of the object changed, brightness indicates that the object is reflecting sunlight. Another big clue was that as it passed Earth it exhibited a push away from the sun like it was speeding up. So we suggested that the sunlight was causing this push, which implies the object is flat, thin and perhaps it is a light sail.

ICON: What’s a light sail?

AL: A light sail is a spacecraft method, this is the technology we’re developing on earth but nowhere else. But this is where it gets peculiar because this object wasn’t bound to the sun, it couldn’t have been made by us. So someone else is making the same theology. It’s very peculiar.

ICON: There has been pushback in the mainstream astronomical circles to your claims. Why?

AL: There is a taboo in mainstream astronomy for discussing unusual or unexplainable facts. It relates to the core fundamentals we have that we are unique, that we are the only ones here, and people feel uncomfortable confronting that. We want to feel special.

Take religion and philosophy, both teach us that we are at the centre of the universe, so to try and conceive that there is life on other planets or stars can be too hard for people to consider. I’m not afraid of being wrong if someone showed me a picture of the Oumuamua and it looked like a rock I would move on, but for me, the evidence suggests the opposite.

ICON: Could intelligent life reach out to us in our lifetime?

AL: I think so because we are trying the same, we sent Voyager One and Two, we have space junk that we distribute in space. So we are reaching out, so why not expect others to have done that. Other civilisations may have technologies that are have been around of billions of years longer, so they may be ahead of us and they may be able to reach us first.

I suspect we are not the most advanced in the universe very possible that there are civilisations that are further ahead than us.

ICON: What would intelligent life make of earth if they arrive in 2021?

AL: Think they would conclude that we are not particularly intelligent, just look t the morning newspaper you can see we’re not doing the best we can to create a better future. We fight each other, we invest in the wrong things, and we ignore the interests of humanity.