Can we discover extraterrestrial technology? That is the lofty ambition of the Galileo Project, which was established this week by Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb with hefty private funding.
The study is far from the first attempt to find indications of extraterrestrial civilizations. Loeb has already been chastised for dismissing prior attempts to locate extraterrestrial life and claiming that an alien artifact traveled through our solar system in 2017.
So, what makes Loeb and his colleagues believe they can succeed where others have failed? There are three indicators that they could.
UFOs, exoplanets, and ‘Oumuamua
For starters, years of meticulous monitoring have revealed that many stars are home to Earth-like planets. There is a significant possibility that these “exoplanets” are home to extraterrestrial civilizations.
Second, five years ago, an interstellar visitor known as ‘Oumuamua’ passed through our solar system. It was a 400-meter-long slender object, and we know from its speed and trajectory that it came from outside our solar system. It was the first time we’d ever spotted an interstellar object in our area.
An artist’s rendition of ‘Oumuamua,’ Hawaiian for “messenger.”
Unfortunately, it took us off guard, and we didn’t realize it until it was almost out. As a result, we didn’t get a chance to take a good look at it.
Scientists were divided on what ‘Oumuamua may be. Many assumed it was just an interplanetary fragment of rock, despite the fact that we had no understanding of how such a shard could be manufactured or thrown our way.
Others, including Loeb, believed it was a spaceship from another civilization. Some scientists thought such assertions were implausible. Others argued that science should be open-minded and that, in the lack of a solid explanation, we should consider all feasible possibilities.
The question remains unanswered to this day. We don’t know if ‘Oumuamua was a spaceship or just a lump of rock.
The US military provided the third impetus for the Galileo Project. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States confirmed in June that certain military reports of UFOs, or UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), as they are now termed, appear to be true.
According to the paper, some UAPs “presumably actually reflect tangible items given that the bulk of UAP was reported across many sensors” and had no known explanation.
They are not, in other words, meteorological phenomena, malfunctioning instruments, weather balloons, or covert military experiments. So, what exactly are they?
Once again, the question remains unanswered. The study appears to rule out known technology in favor of “advanced technology,” but stops short of implying that it is the product of aliens.
Science comes to the rescue
Loeb believes that instead of discussing whether ‘Oumuamua or UAPs give proof of extraterrestrial intelligence, scientists should focus on what they are good at gathering trustworthy data.
And, he claims, scientists, not politicians or military personnel, are the best individuals to accomplish it. According to the US assessment, the military’s sensors “are not normally appropriate for spotting UAP.”
Few topics split scientists as much as the presence of extraterrestrials. On the one hand, major SETI (Search for Alien Intelligence) efforts, such as Project Phoenix and Breakthrough Listen, employ the world’s biggest telescopes to look for signals from extraterrestrial intelligence.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, few scientists are convinced by the hazy images and questionable eyewitness stories that seem to characterize many UFO encounters.
The Galileo Project is not like SETI searches or UFO sighting databases. Instead, it will specifically look for evidence of extraterrestrial artifacts in space or on Earth.
Is it scientific, though?
Is this really science? Loeb is adamant that it is. He claims that the Galileo Project will use scientific skills and knowledge to one of the most crucial issues we may ask: are we alone? In addition, the initiative will create custom-designed equipment that will be optimized for the identification of extraterrestrial artifacts.
Will it turn up anything? As Loeb concedes, the odds are stacked against him. In essence, it’s a fishing trip. However, if there is a strong evidence for the presence of extraterrestrial technology, science has a responsibility to study it.
But what if they do discover something? Will we ever learn anything about it, or will it be sealed away in some future Area 51?
The Galileo Project has said that all data would be made available, and all findings will be published in peer-reviewed publications.
Indeed, one of the reasons it won’t use current military data is that most of it is secret, limiting the project’s ability to make the conclusions public.
Alternatively, the effort may discover natural explanations for ‘Oumuamua and UAPs. Even so, it will be a novel scientific finding, maybe exposing new natural phenomena.
As Loeb puts it:
“Every time we gaze at the sky in a different manner, we discover something new.” Whatever happens, we’ll find something fascinating.”