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What the papers said 7th November 2018

rfi English, Nov 7

Have the interstellar neighbours been snooping; and does the moderate left have a political future in France. 

Just to give you a break from those American midterm elections, news from Le Monde's science pages that two scientists from the highly respected Harvard university in the United States think we're not alone in the universe.

They claim that the cigar-shaped Oumuamua asteroid, which passed through our solar system in 2017 was actually an exploratory device sent by an extraterrestrial civilisation. "Oumuamua" means "messenger" in Hawaian.

The asteroid in question was 400m long and about 40 wide and was tracked by several telescopes. It was widely celebrated as the first object to have reached our corner of space from another stellar system.

After careful consideration, the asteroid was downgraded to a comet. In other words, from mini-planet status to a mere ball of ice and dust. It did not appear to be emitting signals.

Now, in this month’s edition of the prestigious Astrophysical Journal, the two scientists, one of them the head of Harvard's astronomy department, suggest that Oumuamua could have been a fully operational research device sent close to Earth by some far-away space neighbours.

They base this claim on the comet's remarkably high speed. Not big enough to profit from the energy provided by solar radiation, Oumuamua could travel that fast only if it had engines, say the two researchers.

Other scientists' incredulity

The rest of the scientific community has reacted with incredulity.

Alan Fitzsimmons of Queen's University, Belfast, says the idea is hogwash. Katie Mack from North Carolina State University reminds us that scientists can publish the most ridiculous hypotheses, provided that there's at least a tiny chance they could be right.

We'll never know for sure. Oumuamua has continued past Earth on its interstellar journey and won't be back.

Is Public Space the future of the French left?

Left-leaning Libération looks ahead to next month's elections in Togo, unlikely to dislodge the Gnassingbé dynasty which has been in power now for more than half a century.

And Libé gives the front-page honours to "Public Space", the new left-wing movement here in France which is trying to pull together the tatters of old socialism with an eye on next year's European elections. It's not just for the left. In an echo of the inclusiveness which won the presidency for Emmanuel Macron, Public Space is open to "everyone," especially those who worry about the environment, who fear economic liberalism, who aren't scared of migrants.

Libération's editorial says this could signal the rebirth of French socialism or a further division of the already micro-fine leftist electorate. But you have to start somewhere.


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