Controversial astronomer outlines plans to search for alien technology
Controversial physicist Avi Loeb is on the hunt for aliens again. His new Galileo Project is setting out to look for any extraterrestrial technology, by tracking unexplained oddities in the sky, studying interstellar objects that whiz through the solar system, and even the extremely remote possibility that alien satellites might be watching us from Earth orbit.
The odds are astronomical that Earth is the only planet in the universe with life on it – but so far no conclusive evidence of aliens has ever been found. That’s not entirely surprising though, given the sheer size of the cosmos and the distances that hypothetical visitors would have to travel to get here. Finding any evidence would constitute one of, if not the most important scientific discovery of all time.
Enter Avi Loeb. The “rockstar” physicist from the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has recently made a name for himself as the man who cried aliens. Fast radio bursts? Aliens. The interstellar object ‘Oumuamua? Aliens. As such, the media loves him as a flashy headline generator – but the scientific community is less appreciative.
Of course, we can’t rule out that extraterrestrial intelligence is behind these mysterious events, but that explanation lies pretty far down the list, behind a plethora of more rational hypotheses. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” after all.
And now, Loeb is hunting down that extraordinary evidence with the Galileo Project. The mission, according to a statement, is “to bring the search for extraterrestrial technological signatures from accidental or anecdotal observations and legends to the mainstream of transparent, validated and systematic scientific research.” All data collected will be open to the public, and any scientific analysis will be transparent.
That apparently involves three main avenues of research. The first is to ramp up the search for and study of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), the mystery formerly known as UFOs. This more-accurate rebrand comes as the strange sightings begin to attract more formal scientific study – on June 25, the US government’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) publicly released a preliminary assessment of UAP reported by military, naval and Air Force personnel.
The ODNI document described 144 reports of UAP, of which only one was able to be identified as a large balloon. Many of these were observed with multiple sensors simultaneously, and 18 incidents in particular showed unusual flight capabilities. They seemed to hover, make sharp turns, move at incredible speeds, and/or had no obvious means of propulsion.
Ultimately, this preliminary assessment was unable to reach a conclusion, but suggested that the phenomena would fall broadly into five groups: airborne clutter, such as drones, birds, balloons, and floating litter like bags; natural atmospheric phenomena like ice crystals or moisture that can register on some instruments; classified US government programs; foreign technologies; and a catch-all “other” group. Noting the potential safety and homeland security risks of UAP, the report concluded that more rigorous data collection needed to be done.
And that’s the first proposed avenue of research for the Galileo Project. Loeb and co. plan to establish a network of telescopes and detector arrays that can monitor for these UAP, in order to snap higher resolution images of them in visible and infrared light, as well as radar. Specialized algorithms would be used to analyze images and sort out birds, balloons, drones, atmospheric events, aircraft and satellites from more mysterious sightings.
The second main avenue of research is to search for and study interstellar objects like ‘Oumuamua and Borisov. The former made headlines in 2017 when it was discovered to be just passing through our solar system from somewhere far beyond. But the story got weirder. The object was shaped either like a cigar or a pancake tumbling lengthways through space, and as it passed the Sun it appeared to speed up in a way that couldn’t be accounted for by gravity alone.
Explanations for ‘Oumuamua’s trajectory, shape and acceleration varied. Astronomers suggest it could have been a plain old asteroid or comet that sped up as heat from the Sun vaporized material on its surface, resulting in outgassing. Others hypothesized it was a stretched fragment of a planet torn to shreds by a close encounter with a star, or an interstellar iceberg made of hydrogen or nitrogen.
Avi, of course, insists it’s aliens. SETI and the Breakthrough Listen Initiative (of which Loeb is part) pointed their instruments at ‘Oumuamua to make sure it wasn’t a probe broadcasting radio signals. It’s a fair question to ask, but even though the answer came back negative Loeb still argues in favor of artificial design.
To make sure they don’t miss any future opportunities for closer study, the Galileo Project plans to use astronomical surveys like the Vera Rubin Observatory to identify interstellar objects more quickly, so they can be studied for longer. The group also plans to conceptualize and design a space mission that could intercept their path.
And finally, the third avenue of research for the Galileo Project is by far the most bizarre: searching for satellites in orbit around Earth that may have been placed there by aliens. The idea is arguably bordering on conspiracy theory territory, and maybe we should just go look for Russell’s teapot somewhere between here and Mars. Either way, the Galileo group plans to design algorithms that can recognize and filter objects, and deploy them on telescopes to aid in this search.
Loeb would likely counter with his usual argument – that the established scientific community is too ingrained in existing ideas and unwilling to entertain the possibility of extraterrestrial existence. But that doesn’t seem entirely fair – after all, right now the Perseverance rover is hunting for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars. And astronomers are scouring exoplanets for natural biosignatures like methane or phosphine, or “technosignatures” like laser flashes, city lights, or air pollution.
Even if the Galileo Project fails to turn up evidence of aliens, Loeb says there’s still value in the work.
“At a minimum the Galileo Project will gather rich data sets that may foster the discovery of – or better scientific explanations for – novel interstellar objects with anomalous properties, and for potential new natural phenomena or terrestrial technology explanations for many presently inexplicable UAP,” concludes the statement.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to follow the story.
Source: Galileo Project