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Galileo Project: A new hunt for alien objects in the universe

Harvard professor Avi Loeb launches new project to search for extraterrestrial life.

On this side of the galaxy, things are getting pretty weird.

From interstellar visitors that cruised through the Solar System, to government reports detailing unidentified aerial phenomena, there are a number of unexplained cosmic incidents.

Now, a Harvard astrophysicist is putting his weight behind finding them.

An effort announced Monday called the Galileo Project aims to search for and investigate physical objects that could be the result of an intelligent extraterrestrial civilization.

It’s helmed by Avi Loeb, a professor at Harvard University’s department of astronomy, who was recently the subject of scrutiny for claiming that interstellar comet ‘Oumuamua was in fact a piece of annihilated alien technology.

The project will continue Loeb’s efforts to pin down the origin of ‘Oumuamua, as well as look for other similar objects that Loeb believes are indicative of alien life. It was founded in light of the recently released UAP government report.

"Science should not reject potential extraterrestrial explanations because of social stigma or cultural preferences that are not conducive to the scientific method of unbiased, empirical inquiry," Loeb said during a press conference on Monday.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the Galileo Project?

The project aims to transform the search for aliens from “accidental” discoveries to a systematic, scientific research-based effort. It was announced via a live stream still available on YouTube.

The Galileo Project works off the assumption that not only do aliens exist but they developed an intelligent civilization capable of building advanced alien technology that would be detectable by astronomers on Earth. It’s described by its team as “complementary to traditional SETI.”

The project will use data from existing and upcoming survey telescopes like the 8-meter Vera C. Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile.

It has three major aims:

  1. Capture images of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) through a network of mid-sized, high-resolution telescopes and detector arrays.
  2. Search for other objects that are similar to Oumuamua.
  3. Search for small satellites from alien civilizations that may be exploring Earth.

The research team arm consists of Loeb and 14 other experts representing affiliations ranging from the University of Cambridge to Microsoft. There is a philanthropic advisory board as well as a scientific advisory board. The latter includes Stephen Wolfram, a mathematician who attracted controversy for a recently proposed “Theory of Everything.”

Who funds the Galileo Project?

The project appears to be connected to the Laukien Science Foundation, spearheaded by billionaire Frank Laukien and William A. Linton of the biotech firm Promega Corporation the Usona Institute, which conducts research into psychedelic drugs. The foundation and Linton are both listed as being on the Philanthropic Advisory Board.

Wealthy donors also got in touch with Loeb after he published his book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, reports Science. Approximately $1.75 million was donated by four of these donors — this money is going behind the Galileo Project.

Who is Avi Loeb?

Avi Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science in the Harvard University Department of Astronomy. Loeb has a colorful history, pairing serious research on black holes and exoplanets alongside out-there proposals on Arxiv.org pre-prints, including:

In January 2021, Loeb released the book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. In it, he doubles down on his statements of ‘Oumuamua as an artificial extraterrestrial object. In June, he explicitly connected his ‘Oumuamua hypothesis to the burgeoning government investigations into unidentified aerial phenomena in a Scientific American opinion column.

Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard's University's Astronomy Department. His argument that ‘Oumuamua is a piece of extraterrestrial technology was met with skepticism. Getty Images

He’s attracted other controversy, including comments towards the existing Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence field, calling them “mediocre scientists” as he talked over Jill Tarter, one of the most well-known SETI researchers, during a public event.

Loeb has used his Scientific American column to promote many of his ideas, including his more controversial ones.

What are UAPs and why investigate them?

On June 25, the government released a highly anticipated report into U.S. military sightings of UAPs.

It was the first detailed government report on UAPs, the official military term for UFOs, in over 50 years. In the report, Pentagon officials essentially explain that the sightings of these things are real — but they don’t know what the “things” are.

The report focused on events that took place between the years 2004 and 2021, with the majority of the sightings remaining unexplained.

The Galileo Project aims to identify more of these unexplained phenomena and use artificial intelligence to differentiate between UAPs and sightings of birds, balloons, and commercial or consumer drones.

The data will be available to the public to analyze as the team gathers it.

What’s ‘Oumuamua?

On October 19, 2017, our Solar System received an unexpected visitor. A rocky, elongated object, sort of shaped like a cigar, visited from beyond the realms of the Sun — the first-ever recorded interstellar object to cruise through our neck of the galaxy.

Scientists dubbed it 'Oumuamua, which roughly translates to "a messenger from afar arriving first" in Hawaiian.

But they couldn’t determine what it was, whether it was a comet, an asteroid, or something else entirely.

A mockup of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, one of the facilities that will be used to hunt for UAPs. Rubin Obs./NSF/AURA

In 2018, Loeb co-authored a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters arguing that Oumuamua's speed and acceleration, as well as its brightness, suggests it is not a natural object but instead a piece of advanced technology created by a distant alien civilization.

(Far from everyone agrees for a number of reasons. Most recently, scientists floated the idea that it’s a fragment of a Pluto-like planet.)

“We can only speculate whether 'Oumuamua may be explained by never-seen-before natural explanations, or by stretching our imagination to 'Oumuamua perhaps being an extraterrestrial technological object, similar to a very thin lightsail or communications dish, which would fit the astronomical data rather well," Loeb said during the press conference.

But part of the Galileo Project is searching for other objects that are similar to Oumuamua which could have traveled to Earth from a distant civilization.

The Inverse analysis — The Galileo Project is based on the idea that aliens are out there, and that it’s too late to ignore their existence. Case in point: the researchers want to find small satellites that may be currently orbiting Earth.

While organizations like SETI look for radio or light signals that suggest the presence of technically advanced extraterrestrials, the Galileo Project wants to, in part, find physical evidence of those beings. Objects and satellites could be palpable pieces of our cosmic are-we-alone-in-the-universe puzzle.

We’ll see what happens — and if these supposed-advanced beings find us first. For now, the closest suggestion to life outside Earth in the universe is watery moons and volcanic planets.

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