The Best We Can
By Carrie Vaughn
In the end, the discovery of evidence of extraterrestrial life, and not just life, but intelligence, got hopelessly mucked up because no one wanted to take responsibility for confirming the findings, and no one could decide who ultimately had the authority—the obligation—to do so. We submitted the paper, but peer review held it up for a year. News leaked—NASA announced one of their press conferences, but the press conference ended up being an announcement about a future announcement, which never actually happened and the reporters made a joke of it. Another case of Antarctic meteorites or cold fusion. We went around with our mouths shut waiting for an official announcement while ulcers devoured our guts.
So I wrote a press release. I had Marsh at JPL’s comet group and Salvayan at Columbia vet it for me and released it under the auspices of the JPL Near Earth Objects Program. We could at least start talking about it instead of arguing about whether we were ready to start talking about it. I didn’t know what would happen next. I did it in the spirit of scientific outreach, naturally. The release included that now-famous blurry photo that started the whole thing.
I had an original print of that photo, of UO-1—Unidentified Object One, because it technically wasn’t flying and I was being optimistic that this would be the first of more than one —framed and hanging on the wall over my desk, a stark focal point in my chronically cluttered office. Out of the thousands of asteroids we tracked and photographed, this one caught my eye, because it was symmetrical and had a higher than normal albedo. It flashed, even, like a mirror. Asteroids aren’t symmetrical and aren’t very reflective. But if it wasn’t an asteroid . . . .