The longer they studied it, the deeper the mystery grew. Avi Loeb suggested that it might be an alien probe, launching a media maelstrom that has yet to die down. No crackpot is Dr. Loeb. He is the chairman of the astronomy department at Harvard, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and an authority on the first stars in the early universe.
Dr. Loeb, 57, relishes the attention as a teaching moment. “I want to bring the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into the mainstream of astronomy,” he says. “There is a taboo about discussing anything related to that.”