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Harvard astrophysicist leads new research on life and space technology

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  • A new project will search for alien civilizations and technologies using ground-based telescopes.
  • The researchers plan to search for unidentified atmospheric phenomena in the atmosphere that could be aliens.
  • The Harvard Physics Project is led by Avi Loeb. The interstellar object ‘Oumuamua is believed to have been a strange ship.

When the first-ever interstellar object, ʻOumuamua, was observed veering away from Earth in 2017, it appeared to be accelerating. That’s not what most space rocks do – which is partly why Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb says “Oumuamua was an alien spacecraft.

Although most researchers agree that the object was a space rock — either a comet or a piece of a small planet — Loeb believes there are countless other objects like Oumuamua spewing off our planet, some of which could come from extraterrestrials as well. So he launched a program to find them.

On Monday, Loeb announced an initiative called Project Galileo — after the Italian astronomer — that will search for physical evidence of alien technologies and civilizations.

“It’s a fishing trip, let’s go out and catch any fish we find,” Loeb said at a press conference. “This includes objects that are close to Earth, or hovering within our atmosphere, or things that have come from outside the solar system that look strange.”

The $1.75 million project, backed by at least four philanthropists, aims to use a network of ground-based telescopes to search for interstellar objects that could be extraterrestrial in nature. The group will also search for possible alien ships in Earth’s orbit, as well as unidentified flying ships in our atmosphere.

Find interstellar objects before they cross the Earth

oumuamua 1i 2017 u1 solar system path illustration comet asteroid or alien spacecraft NASA SWri ESA stsci PIA22357_fig1

Illustration of ‘Oumuamua flying through the solar system in 2017.

NASA / European Space Agency / STScI

By the time astronomers realized ‘Oumuamua’ existed, it had already begun to cruise at 196,000 miles per hour. Several telescopes on Earth and one in space took limited observations, but astronomers only had a few weeks to study the UFO the size of a skyscraper before it got too far away.

This left many questions about what the object was and where it came from. In Loeb’s book “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Extraterrestrial Life” published in January, Oumuamua is a dead piece of space technology.

“The object has anomalies that deserve some attention — things that don’t go along with the ways we expected,” Loeb told Insider before the book was published, adding, “When something doesn’t line up, you have to say it.”

Two years after Oumuamua, astronomers discovered a second interstellar object: a comet called 2I/Borisov. Through Project Galileo, Loeb and a team of 14 other researchers hope to detect future interstellar objects early as they approach Earth. To do this, they plan to use the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii and the 8-meter telescope currently under construction at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile.

Early detection could enable scientists to send probes into these objects, according to Frank Lucian, a visiting researcher at Harvard University and one of the founders of the Galileo Project.

“Next time, we have to have much better data much earlier, and maybe we’re going to degrade it or get very close to it,” Laukyan said at the press conference.

Searching for signs of extraterrestrial technology

Vera Robin telescope

A large comprehensive survey telescope building at the Vera Rubin Observatory in Cerro Passion, Chile, in September 2019.

Will O’Molan / Wikimedia Commons

Loeb describes the new project as complementing the SETI Institute, which searches for extraterrestrial life using radio telescopes. But he said Galileo’s project would look for physical evidence of alien civilizations, rather than radio signals. This includes potentially alien satellites that could orbit Earth or parts of an extraterrestrial vehicle. (One of Loeb’s hypotheses is that Oumuamua was a piece of light sail or antenna that wrecked a larger ship.)

Loeb also plans to examine unspecified atmospheric phenomena, or UAPs, within Earth’s atmosphere.

Last month, US intelligence officials released a report describing 144 incidents since 2004 in which military personnel encountered UAPs. The report concluded that one of these incidents turned out to involve an deflated balloon, but the rest of the incidents have not been explained.

ufo uap pentagonal triangle

Naval still shot of unidentified weather phenomena.


“It’s an extraordinary admission by the government that there are things in our skies that we don’t fully understand,” Loeb said.

According to the Galileo Project website, these UAPs could be artifacts of extinct alien civilizations or active extraterrestrial equipment. So the group hopes to image future UAPs at a higher resolution by creating a network of one-meter telescopes around the world.

Such telescopes, each costing about $500,000, can pinpoint details as small as 1 millimeter on objects the size of a person a mile away.

“This can help us distinguish a label that says ‘something made in country X’ from a label that says ‘made by exoplanet Y’,” Loeb said.

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Physicist Avi Loeb on stage in New York in 2016.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

He added that Galileo’s team plans to publish its data to encourage other scientists to get involved in the research as well.

“Finding other people on Cosmic Streets will help us mature—help us realize that the sharpest scones were not in the jar, and that intelligent life far superior to us may exist there,” Loeb said.


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