When astronomers around the globe discovered an unusual object passing through our Solar System in late 2017, the race was on to work out what it was and where it came from. The first interstellar visitor we had ever spotted — ‘Oumuamua — was already moving away from the Sun, about to disappear from the sights of even our most powerful telescopes. Two years later, we still don’t know exactly what ‘Oumuamua is — an asteroid, a comet… some even claim it may be debris from an alien spacecraft. The final answer, just like this unique visitor, may forever stay out of our reach. This got us thinking: why study something that we can never know the answer to? And is it worth it?
In this podcast episode we speak to the people who explored the story of ‘Oumuamua as it traveled out of our sight — a scientist interpreting the data, a journalist sharing the news with the public, a physicist finding a common tongue with funding bodies, and a philosopher researching what it means to be certain. We uncover the ways in which they approach uncertainty in their work and discuss why finding the answers is so important. Join us for a journey into the uncertain!
This episode was made possible thanks to the time, knowledge and feedback of: Olivier Hainaut, Andrew Williams, Alina Schadwinkel, Samuel Pedziwiatr; Axel Fischer, Julia Jäkel, our fellow students in the 2019 course Telling Responsible Stories, and the Munich Center for Technology in Society. We would especially like to thank our lecturer, Professor Ruth Müller, for pioneering this course.