Chasing Oumuamua – Project Lyra

A Long Now Boston Conversation with Dr Martin Elvis (Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) on Project Lyra, a space mission to chase, catch and interrogate Oumuamua in 26 years.


On May 2, 2022, Dr Martin Elvis gave a spellbinding presentation on Project Lyra – a proposal to chase, cash and investigate the mysterious interstellar visitor named Oumuamua.  Harvard astronomer Abraham Avi Loeb had introduced Oumuamua to Long Now Boston in his 

Long Now Boston Talk “Life Among the Stars ” in December 2019.  Since then, Avi has raised a storm of controversy on his continued claim that Oumuamua is best explained as an artifact – a manufactured device of interstellar origins.  If this is true, the consequences to humanity would be profound – we are not alone in the Universe and the Fermi Paradox would be laid to rest.

Project Lyra

Martin reviewed the technical data on Oumuamua, noting that it is generally believed to be of interstellar origin, but that no consensus has emerged as to its nature.  Given its odd observed behavior and apparent acceleration after passing the sun, it is not unreasonable to think that it is an alien craft, either an accidental or anonymous METI (messaging by extraterrestrial intelligence).  Speculations continue to abound – and the consequences of one or another of these speculations being true are very significant.

The proposed solution is to launch a light, fast surveillance mission – Project Lyra – to intercept Oumuamua before it is gone forever.  If the resources and technical capacity can be assembled, the mission could be launched in 2028.  By using Jupiter as a slingshot in 2032, the mission could intercept Oumuamua by 2050, in 28 years.

Martin noted that assembling, launching, and monitoring the Project Lyra mission would be challenging.  We would learn a lot in the process of securing the opportunity to investigate this interstellar object close up.


Given the renewed interested in space missions in the past few years and the prospects of near-term space commercialization, many in the audience felt that Project Lyra in some form could and should be funded.  We may wait years to find out.  If the mission does proceed, we will still have to wait decades to learn, if we can, the mystery of Oumuamua’s nature and origins – is it a space anomaly or a space craft.

For a recent post on Project Lyra, check this out on PHYS.ORG.

Life Among the Stars

Avi Loeb is confident in the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations, and optimistic that confirmation, when achieved, will fundamentally transform the human perspective, just as the Copernican revolution, based on increasingly detailed astronomical observations, did a half-millenium ago.  With the rapid increase in relevant data from more advanced observations and increasingly sophisticated space missions, that confirmation may come soon.

“Our civilization will mature only by leaving home to the cosmic street and meeting others.”  Avi Loeb



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