Harvard University's chair of the Department of Astronomy, Avi Loeb, is no stranger to controversy. His suggestion that a foreign object detected when entering our solar system from deep space could be an alien probe is just the latest example.
Now he added fuel to the fire.
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Israeli professor fiercely defended his hypothesis.
"As soon as we get out of the solar system, I think we'll see a lot of traffic out there," he says. "We might get a message saying," Welcome to the interstellar club. "Or we'll find out several dead civilizations, that is, we'll find their remains."
At the center of the debate is' Oumuamua.
Translated from the Hawaiian, it means "sent messenger from the distant past".
It came from outside the ecliptic – the plane swirl of planets, asteroids, and material that spun in place as our Solar System formed.
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It was a strange reddish color, suggesting extreme exposure to powerful cosmic rays.
It was relatively bright, at least compared to the average black color of most comets and known asteroids.
It was moving very, very fast. And it was seen as "accelerated" when it moved away from the sun like comets. But it had no comet's tail.
It was also seen "blinking" quickly, as if it were an elongated object – or plane – in a wild fall.
'Oumuamua is certainly strange.
But, therefore, aliens?
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
Professor Loeb, 56, joined forces with Shmuel Bialy to publish an article speculating that "Oumuamua was not a comet, not an asteroid.
Instead, he argued, his unusual path could be explained if it were an artificial artificial candle.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence had already verified: he was devoting part of his valuable time to the radio telescope to listen carefully to the object.
It is not a peep.
No radio messages or beacons. No radar position emission. Anything.
But Professor Loeb is not discouraged.
"I do not care what people say," he told the Haarets. "I say what I think, and if the general public is interested in what I say, this is a welcome result, as far as I'm concerned, but an indirect result. Science is not like politics: it is not based on popularity searches. "
But he seems eager to increase speculation.
"We can not know if it's an active technology or a spacecraft that does not work anymore and continues to float in space," says Haaretz. "But if Oumuamua was created along with an entire population of similar objects that were randomly cast, finding that means that its creators have released a quadrant of probes like this to all the stars in the Milky Way."
Professor Loeb says he believes the universe is full of alien debris. And among them are living societies.
Finding them should be the top priority, he argues.
"Our approach must be archaeological," he says. "Just as we dig into the ground to find cultures that no longer exist, we need to dig into space to discover civilizations that existed outside of planet Earth."
Professor Loeb says that discussions about the origins of Oumuamua have spread throughout the scientific community.
"Senior-status scientists said that this object was peculiar, but they were apprehensive about making their thoughts public. I do not understand this. After all, academic ownership is meant to give scientists the freedom to take risks without having to worry about their jobs. "
However, he says, the extreme caution with which scientists observe his words as they seek such a high status has a tendency to move forward.
"When we ask ourselves about the world, we allow ourselves to err. We learn about the world with innocence and honesty. As a scientist, you should enjoy the privilege of continuing your childhood. Do not worry about the ego, but find out the truth. Especially after you get stability.
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But critics point out that there is a difference between speculation and a testable hypothesis built upon measurable quantities.
Loeb is quick to respond: "The quest for extraterrestrial life is not speculation," he says. "It is far less speculative than the assumption that there is dark matter – invisible matter that constitutes 85 percent of the material in the universe."
But that is another controversy entirely.
Professor Loeb is also a supporter of Breakthrough Starshot's proposal of Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to build thousands of tiny "star chips" to propel our nearest neighbor, Alpha Centauri, in an effort to exploit this solar system.
That may be because the concept gets so high in your mind.
It's not like he's completely unaware of the risks, though.
"It may be that I am committing suicide of image if that is incorrect," he says. "On the other hand, if it is correct, it is one of the greatest discoveries in the history of mankind.
"Besides, what is the worst thing that can happen to me? Will I be relieved of my administrative duties? This will bring the benefit that I will have more time for science.