Before he started the whole alien spaceship thing last year, the chairman of Harvard University’s astronomy department was known for public lectures on modesty. Personal modesty, which Avi Loeb said he learned growing up on a farm. And what Loeb calls “cosmic modesty” – the idea that it’s arrogant to assume we are alone in the universe, or even a particularly special species.
You can find a poster for one of these lectures in Loeb’s office today, though it’s a bit lost among the clutter: photos of Loeb posing under the dome of Harvard’s enormous 19th-century telescope; thank-you notes from elementary schoolchildren; a framed interview he gave the New York Times in 2014; his books on the formation of galaxies; his face, again and again – a bespectacled man in his mid-50s with a perpetually satisfied smile.
Loeb stands beside his desk on the first morning of spring courses in a creaseless suit, stapling syllabi for his afternoon class. He points visitors to this and that on the wall. He mentions that four TV crews were in this office on the day in the fall when his spaceship theory went viral, and now five film companies are interested in making a movie about his life.