Staying Young at 62 Out of 13.8-Billion Years

Avi Loeb
7 min readFeb 26, 2024
Image credit: Instytut B61, Adrian Chmielewski (February 18, 2024).

Life is a balancing act. As we age — we become wiser, but we have less time left to live. Given the opportunity to choose one day to live again, I would choose my last day. I would relive the last day with all the wisdom gained over my lifespan but maintain the curiosity I had on my first day. My mother told me that as soon as I was born, my eyes were wide open - staring with wonder at the world around me. I never stopped wondering about the world ever since. Most of it makes sense, except for what some adults in academia do. Early in life, I vowed never to pretend to be the adult in the room, irrespective of my biological age. This is particularly relevant at my advanced age, as I count backwards the years left in my life.

Why do I bring up these life-encompassing reflections? Because today I turned 62 years old. This age delivers a numerical coincidence with its digits `6’ and `2’ as I was born on 26/2/62. The previous numerical coincidence occurred when I turned 26 years old, a few months before arriving at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. Back then, I was awarded a 5-year fellowship in astrophysics — a research area I knew nothing about. Before offering me the job, John Bahcall inquired about my computational experience, and I confessed that my computer skills were limited to instances when I needed to solve differential equations. Already back in 1988, John was stunned, noting: “How did you finish your PhD without better computer expertise?” All I could express in response is gratitude for his trust in my potential to grow. By now, I was fortunate to share John’s generosity with hundreds of mentees. He was not wrong in his generosity, as by now I had published more than a thousand peer-reviewed papers, nine books, and hundreds of essays, powered by a fountain of ideas that never ceased. There is more to come. Currently, I am starting to work on my next book and seeking funds for a new ocean expedition.

One of my former mentees, the amazingly accomplished Professor Smadar Naoz who holds the Astrid Preston Chair in Astrophysics at UCLA, wrote to me today:

Dear Avi,

Happy Birthday!

I wish you happiness, health, and love. I also wish you many new, exciting discoveries and surprises that will shutter previous notions and lores :-) May you continue to push the boundaries of science and the status quo. May you continue to stand for what is right!

Happy birthday!

Smadar

The artist and astronomy Professor Nia Imara — who was recently featured in Scientific American and on YouTube, sent me a brief message:

Happy birthday, Avi!

I just wanted to take the opportunity to reach out and say congratulations on all the wonderful things happening around your work, including your new book and the [upcoming] TED talk. I hope more is to come for you in 2024.

Take good care.

Best, -Nia

My exceptionally gifted collaborator, Hamsa Padmanabhan, wrote:

Dear Avi,

Many many happy returns of the day!

Wishing you many more years of fun-filled productivity ahead.

with best wishes,

Hamsa

And my brilliant postdoc, Fabio Pacucci, wrote this morning:

Hi Avi,

Happy Birthday!

May your new year be full of discoveries, excitement, and happiness!

Thank you for being a teacher and mentor to me and an inspiration to search for the hidden mysteries of Nature!

Best wishes for a special day!

P.S.: I am bringing you some chocolate. :)

Fabio

Nothing brings me more pleasure than the success of my mentees.

The privilege of being a practicing physicist is that I can reduce new problems to simpler problems that were already solved, using basic principles. By collecting new data, anomalous phenomena can be figured out. This applies also to anomalous human interactions. Given my lifelong experience, I choose to forgive unreasonable critics and avoid confrontations to save on time and bruises. Collecting better scientific evidence and analyzing it in great detail, should ultimately bring all reasonable people to the same conclusions, and there is no point in satisfying unreasonable people. This was the path chosen by Nicolaus Copernicus, when as a priest he was bound to a belief system that deviated from what the data indicated. It was also the path that my research team took when studying the BeLaU spherules from an expedition to the site of an interstellar meteor in the Pacific Ocean. We demonstrated in an extensive paper that took 8 months to complete that these unique spherules are not coal fly ash, as some critics argued superficially. Bad behavior by clickbait-starved journalists, frustrated scientists who seek the limelight or unprofessional bloggers, reflects more on them than on the matters they discuss. Life is short, so we better focus on substance and play chess rather than mud-wrestling.

The keynote lecture by Avi Loeb in Torun, Poland was titled: “The Next Copernican Revolution,” and took place on February 18, 2024 (Image credit: Instytut B61, Adrian Chmielewski)

Aside from maintaining my childhood curiosity through adulthood, it is remarkable how many circles closed during my lifetime. Let me mention a few.

My childhood was embedded in nature on a remote farm. This year I returned to nature on a scientific expedition to a remote site in the Pacific Ocean. On another circle, I started my career as a physicist by leading the first international research project funded by the “Star Wars” initiative of President Ronald Reagan, which resulted in a 1989 patent on electrothermal propulsion. My latest act revolves around the search for interstellar objects, akin to “Star Wars”-like gadgets. The search was described in a new video from the political Munich Security Conference, which featured for the first time a scientist in conversation with Rolf Dobelli, founder of WORLD.MINDS on February 16, 2024.

Book signing event for the Polish translation of Avi Loeb’s “Extraterrestrial” in Torun, Poland on February 18, 2024 (Image credit: Instytut B61, Adrian Chmielewski)

Other circles extend further back to a time before I was born. Half a millennium ago, Nicolaus Copernicus realized that we are not privileged to reside at the physical center of the Universe. A week ago, I delivered a keynote lecture on “The Next Copernican Revolution,” and was awarded a copy of De revolutionibus from Piotr Całbecki, the Governor of the region where Copernicus was born.

A description (left) of Copernicus’ book (right) De revolutionibus, awarded to Avi Loeb on February 18, 2024 in Torun, Poland.

Our expanding Universe started 13.8 billion years ago in a Big Bang, as confirmed by the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background in 1963, a year after my birth. Thirty years later, I was fortunate to pioneer the study of the first stars and galaxies, born in the infant Universe — merely a hundred million years after the Big Bang, as summarized in my textbook and introductory-level book and now observed by the Webb telescope.

How much wiser would our civilization be if our scientific history had started with the earliest generation of stars? One way to tell is by finding older scientific civilizations outside the solar system. The vastness of interstellar space separates our homes but the Galileo Project is searching for their packages, which might have arrived by now to our mailbox.

Until we find our cosmic neighbors, I will maintain my two daily routines of consuming half of my calories from dark chocolates and jogging every morning at sunrise. Gladly, the Sun is expected to outlive my lifespan by a factor of a hundred million, so I can count on it rising the same way for the remainder of my mornings on this Earth.

In a recent podcast, I was asked whether I would venture into interstellar space on a one-way trip. In reply, I confirmed that I will gladly make my body an interstellar object. My carry-on baggage will include a large box of chocolates and a watch, enabling me to maintain the 24-hour rhythm reminiscent of the spin period of my birth planet. If the interstellar craft could cruise close to the speed of light, I would be happy to benefit from time dilation and return back to Earth after millions of terrestrial years. Time dilation is the ultimate recipe for staying young and satisfying curiosity about the future.

Given how much more we have to learn about the Universe, I wish to stay forever young.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

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Avi Loeb

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