What does Harvard theoretical physicist Avi Loeb have to do with co-founding a $1.755 million scholarly initiative to seek UFOs? Loeb announced the Galileo Project yesterday.
It intends to create a network of telescopes powered by artificial intelligence that can look for evidence of technological alien civilizations on or near Earth.
Outside scholars have mixed feelings about the initiative, claiming that while there’s no harm in systematically looking for such things, the chances of discovering anything are minimal.
Galileo is the result of Loeb’s special passion: arguing that ‘Oumuamua, the first interstellar comet ever found, could be a probe from an intelligent species interested in learning about our solar system.
He’s been promoting the theory in the scientific press and in a nonfiction book called Extraterrestrial for the past few years.
Many people interested in UFOs—now more respectfully referred to as unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAP—contacted Loeb while he was on a press tour for the book, he says.
Several of those individuals turned out to be affluent and generous, bestowing substantial quantities of money on him to be used for more formal inquiries.
“I often highlight that whether an object is a relic from a technological society is not a philosophical question,” Loeb explains.
“Taking a high-resolution photograph is a simple way to respond.”
That is what he and his Galileo research colleagues want to accomplish.
by constructing small arrays of instruments that would continuously search the skies for data on anything unusual
The initiative will also build sensors to detect any strange, artificial, or potentially alien satellites orbiting Earth.
as well as searching for other ‘Oumuamua-like interstellar objects to investigate further.
Despite the group’s bizarre objective, experts who are not affiliated with it believe Galileo can provide useful information.
“It can be a really helpful thing in the sense that it can help legitimate those kinds of investigations,” says Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.
Jason Wright comments, “I’m delighted to see Avi and others not afraid of stupid connotations.”
an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University who works on the quest for alien intelligence (SETI).
“So much of the UFO lore is so far removed from how we conduct science that it’s difficult to link yourself with it while still being considered seriously. I like Avi’s intention to collect data systematically and analyze it on a blank sheet.”
Both Walkowicz and Wright state unequivocally that they do not believe UAP has exotic extraterrestrial origins.
It’s much more likely that they’re ordinary objects like planes, birds, insects, meteors, or atmospheric occurrences.
Building detectors to monitor them might be problematic given their highly random nature—most eyewitness stories describe them appearing out of nowhere and departing just as quickly—
According to Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “it’s pretty hard to see how you build a search strategy that would have a probability of discovering one.”
“I believe there are more well-motivated SETI programs, or even UFO-search projects, that could be supported for less money,” says the author.
The Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a widely anticipated report last month on their investigations into UAP, giving the phenomenon a cultural moment.
The authorities found that the majority of the incidents were most likely caused by terrestrial sources, such as weather balloons and foreign drones, but that they deserved additional investigation.
Galileo is designed to do so outside of the realm of secret military data acquisition.
data that is freely available and will be published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications
“The Pentagon has a $22 million budget for UAP research, and I’m not sure what that produced,” says Harvard astronomer Amir Siraj, who works on the project.
“The goal is that we will be able to deliver better results with less money.”
According to Loeb, a modern one-meter telescope capable of discerning pinhead-size features on a human being from a distance of a kilometer may be ordered off-the-shelf for as low as $500,000.
Currently, Loeb has the financing to build a few of this equipment, but he hopes to eventually raise ten times more money and deploy several sensors in various yet-to-be-determined locations, aided by infrared and radar detectors.
As part of its study team, the initiative has gathered a diverse group of technicians, instrumentalists, and other scientists.
It is currently funded by four wealthy individuals, including chemist and entrepreneur Frank H. Laukien, who made their fortune creating industrial equipment for chemistry applications.
Although each of the backers sits on a charitable advisory board for Galileo, Loeb says the financing comes with “no strings attached in a way that affords me entire independence.”
It remains to be seen how long such funders will stick with the initiative and whether Loeb will be able to persuade others to commit more money.
Given that developing and testing technologies that can filter out the plethora of items continually whizzing overhead will take time,
According to Mick West, a skeptical investigator who creates explanatory films regarding UAP footage, Galileo is unlikely to have anything to offer anytime soon.
He continues, “The trouble with UFOs is that they exist in a low-information zone.”
“They’ve always been too far away to resolve what they are, and they get further away every time you have a better camera.”
West, on the other hand, is eager for more research. He says, “Right now, we don’t have the evidence, and when we do, it’ll be pretty contested.” “I’d rather things weren’t so ambiguous.”
Galileo’s ideas aren’t wholly original. Sky Hub is a project that aims to document events in the sky using civilian-owned sensors and machine learning to assist impose limitations on whether or not they imply extraterrestrial visitation.
New interstellar comets and asteroids are already being hunted for using instruments like the future Vera C. Rubin telescope.
and the European Space Agency is working on the Comet Interceptor mission, which might launch in 2028 and look for a suitable interstellar target that has yet to be located.
There is already a massive military and civilian array dedicated to monitoring the space around our planet in terms of potential alien objects in low Earth orbit.
There are almost 20,000 known satellites and other things in this galaxy.
According to McDowell, Loeb “essentially has to reproduce the full space surveillance network and look for the outliers.”
“It’s a difficult and expensive project to complete properly, and the chances of finding something appear slim.”
Finally, there’s Loeb’s personality to consider. He has become increasingly estranged from the astronomical community in recent years.
He portrayed himself as a fearless free thinker who dared to question the scientific establishment’s dogmas.
The Galileo Project’s motto, “Daring to Look Through New Telescopes,” is designed to evoke Galileo Galilei, a scientist who pioneered the use of telescopes.
With his observations, he helped to destabilize the geocentric model of the cosmos. Loeb, on the other hand, isn’t exactly an ostracised outsider.
Walkowicz says, “Avi does this thing where he implies that he’s this iconoclast who’s pushing the frontiers of what’s permissible in science.”
“However, he stands to gain nothing. He’s a Harvard professor with a tenured position.”
During a Zoom call in February,
Loeb became enraged at SETI pioneer Jill Tarter, berating her and the rest of the community for not supporting his plans more strongly.
(He has since apologized to Tarter both publicly and privately.)
Few scholars, including those involved in the study, believe that aliens will be discovered on Earth.
“If we were being visited by extraterrestrials, I would expect to see a lot of ‘museum artifacts,’” says Abel Méndez, an expert on extraterrestrials.
an astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico, referring to the four billion years in the past when aliens could have landed a Mars rover on the Earth’s surface, complete with heat shield, casing, and parachutes.
It remains to be seen whether Galileo will produce anything of relevance in the end.
Even though Loeb has gathered a huge group to assist him in his mission, it is always conceivable that his perspectives will blind him in some respects.
West wonders aloud, “Is he a voice shouting out the truth in the wilderness, or is he a bit of a crank?” “Only time will tell.”