A Piece of Sky

Avi Loeb
7 min readSep 9, 2023


The first reading of the new play about my latest research, titled “A Piece of Sky”, by playwright Josh Ravetch , will take place at the end of September and will hopefully show off Broadway within a year. In his latest email, Josh asked me: “How do we invite the team that built ‘Oumuamua? They’d be surprised to know they may have sent the first interstellar probe to ignite a play in a different solar-system.” In reply, I noted: “Here’s hoping that the senders of `Oumuamua will be watching us from afar. I look forward to translating their review with artificial intelligence (AI) once received.”

During the first rehearsal of the play, I had tears in my eyes because Josh captured poetically the heart that sends blood to the body of my scientific research. Both arts and sciences are engaged in opening new roads to the unknown. In science, some of these roads eventually become highways of the mainstream with thousands of scientists traveling routinely through them. Unfortunately, mainstream zealots forget that these highways used to be “The Road Not Taken”, and their Twitter mobs bully those who attempt to open new roads again.

Consider, for example, the new scientific paper that we posted on the arXiv preprint server about the findings of the Pacific Ocean expedition to retrieve spherules from the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1. Before I traveled to the Pacific Ocean, meteor experts said that the expedition would not find anything. While being there, they complained that I wrote diary reports describing the scientific research we are conducting. When we made our way back with 700 spherules near IM1’s path in our vials, they published a paper saying that IM1 must be a stony meteorite from the solar system, dismissing the velocity measurement by the US Space Command as too high. When we analyzed the spherules, they argued that these are background from solar system meteors. And after we posted results comparing familiar background spherules from control regions to the unique BeLaU-composition of spherules near IM1’s path, they countered that we did not look at control regions and that similar plots were made before. But the truth is that we studied control regions and demonstrated through a prominent map in our paper an enhancement in the spherule yield near IM1’s path, and that the BeLaU composition — with enhancements by factors of hundreds in the abundance of Beryllium (Be) and various elements between Lanthanum (La) and Uranium (U), was never reported before in the scientific literature.

This experience underlines the sobering realization that even for scientists “evidence is not enough”. Here we are four centuries after theologians refused to look through Galileo Galilei’s telescope. Is the response he encountered a stubborn facet of human psychology?

It is surprising to see the mainstream practitioners in theoretical physics and cosmology engaging in virtual realities of extra dimensions, supersymmetry and the multiverse from the past few decades, while solar-system experts bully any deviations from the narrative that all objects in the sky must be stones. How did we allow this inconsistency to be displayed on the center stage of academia, and why is suppression of some forms of innovation in science so prevalent among practicing scientists and non-practicing bloggers? Can we truly make the case that we are an intelligent, evidence-seeking civilization?

I get solace from members of the public who are inspired by the search for evidence. Here are two new messages. The first reads:

Hi Avi,

I just wanted to say a big thank you for pushing on with your research, despite the academic resistance you’ve frequently encountered. It takes a lot of resilience, but the potential outcome could very well be life changing for the world as a whole and you are doing humans a truly wonderful service. I actually completed a BSc Honors in Physics and Astronomy back in the late 90s in New Zealand and began my PhD into Extrasolar planet detection through the Doppler effect. Although I had a slight change of heart at the time regarding pursuing a career purely in research, which led to me not completing my PhD, I have still always followed and kept completely up to date with the latest research and developments in both Physics and Astronomy.

Your work is truly inspiring and I am certain it will encourage a new generation of students to pursue a career in research and to be excited about data that doesn’t fit the expected scientific model and not afraid of it.

Thanks again

The second message expanded the narrative:

Dear Avi,

The psychology and group behavior dynamics of your colleagues are worthy of a book in themselves.

I honestly think that without all the human emotionality and very messy psychology around you, your work, while groundbreaking, would be straightforward. As a scientist, you are just getting on with broadening the scope of science, or rather, doing science as it should be done.

Chance discoveries, ‘anomalies’, empirical evidence, gives rise to new hypotheses, which then prompt further search for more evidence to prove or disprove them. (I studied philosophy of science). Good scientists do not limit the scope of their investigation before they even start, because of pre-held paradigms or conventions, or rather fear of what the mainstream might say. This is what Church-dominated ’science’ in the Middle Ages was about. You’d think we’d moved on by now, but of course we have not. Psychologically we are a very young and messy species. At least you don’t carry the risk of being burned at the stake these days…

All that hysteria and immature emotionality, not to mention tribalism and mob mentality have nothing to do with science. Science was supposed to be about bypassing emotionality, individual human psychological weaknesses like ‘confirmation bias’, fear, ‘groupthink’, oppressive group dynamics, and other human factors, which of course are all centred around existential fear or survivalism.

There is a strange phenomenon that if you even slightly deviate from what is perceived to be the ’norm’ or the ‘mainstream’, you are expected to be perfect as a person, and never make a mistake. When someone is seen to deviate from the mainstream, it is not long before the ad-hominem attacks begin (aka ‘kill the messenger’). It’s nasty and it is well and truly mob mentality.

It is interesting that those in the mainstream are not required to be ‘perfect’, can have flawed character, or make mistakes in their work and it’s all tolerated, even forgiven, because they are mainstream. They are a part of the group… Tribalism is rife everywhere and sadly, science is no exception. It is disappointing.

Science is only allowed to progress at some pace dictated by mainstream group norms that no one could quite pinpoint, but everyone knows instinctively to follow. You mention in your first book the way that new students are indoctrinated into the mainstream, where they learn what the ‘right path’ is, and where not to tread, whom to avoid etc. I have had my share of it when I was a young student. Anyone thinking ‘outside the box’ (why is there a box in the first place?), or running a wee bit faster — even when practicing science rigorously — risks ad-hominem attacks, ridicule, exclusion and rejection.

Humanity has not learned, at least not yet. What is happening to you has happened to many scientists and innovative thinkers before you, including people in my field. It takes a lot of effort to remain grounded, focused on the task, and committed, and not get caught up in the emotional human drama. Until we integrate our brains properly as a species, and overcome our tendency to run away with our emotional reactions, we’ll continue to repeat our patterns. Primitive human psychology places way too much emphasis on acceptance by others at the cost of everything else, including good science. Until we overcome this, we can never consider ourselves a truly intelligent species.

I can imagine you never intended to find yourself in the ‘fringes’ of your field. I am sure it is not easy. You don’t need me to tell you that you are doing the right thing. Acceptance by others is not the important thing here, but integrity, and being true to your path and your principles. Whether or not you will be proven right about extraterrestrial technological civilizations, you are making a huge difference to your field, and to science in general.

I rest my case. Personally, I am waiting for the company of AI scientists, trained to pay attention to anomalies in data and ignore emotional attachment to past knowledge which drives the mob mentality on social media. People who pretend to be the “adults in the room” insist on past knowledge to maintain their social privileges as experts.

It is much easier to have an opinion than to travel to the Pacific Ocean, retrieve spherules, analyze them in the laboratory and write a 44-page paper about the findings.

At the very least, finding natural rocks from afar would educate us about environments which are different from the solar system. But beyond that, we might never find evidence for our cosmic neighbors if we will be waiting for a phone call in the form of a radio signal, while repeating Enrico Fermi’s question: “Where is everybody?” The evidence might show up only after we search for interstellar objects of technological origin in our backyard.


Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.



Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the Baird Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial” and "Interstellar".