Fixing Our Worldview With Scientific Knowledge

Group photo of the Galileo Project members during the first-year conference at the Harvard College Observatory on August 1–3, 2022 (Photo credit: Andy Mead).

Humanity is on the cusp of profound discoveries about our cosmic neighborhood.

Over the past 5 years astronomers became aware of the first three interstellar visitors to the solar system: the interstellar meteor CNEOS 2014–01–08, the object `Oumuamua, and the comet, Borisov. The first two objects are outliers in their properties relative to familiar asteroids and comets from the solar system. The meteor had a material strength tougher than all 273 bolides in the CNEOS catalog and twice the strength of the second-ranked bolide. Just outside the solar system, it was moving faster than 95% of all nearby stars relative to the Sun. `Oumuamua was pushed away from the Sun by an excess force that declined inversely with distance squared, but showed no evidence for cometary gases indicative of the rocket effect. Its reflection of sunlight implied an extreme, most likely flat, shape. It also showed no jitter or variations in its period of rotation, as expected for cometary jets, and its trajectory originated in the Local Standard of Rest closer to this frame than 99.8% of all local stars. These peculiarities raise the possibility of an artificial origin for perhaps some space objects in the vicinity of Earth.

In parallel to these discoveries by astronomers, the US Congress repeatedly discussed over the past year reports by intelligence and military agencies regarding Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena (UAP) in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The best way to better understand these phenomena is by seeking better evidence from state-of-the-art instruments and following the scientific method which entails a transparent, agnostic analysis of open data. The realization that even a single object may have originated from an extraterrestrial technological civilization would resonate with humanity’s most fundamental questions and interests.

The Galileo Project is the first systematic scientific research program in search for artifacts or remnants of extraterrestrial technological civilizations. The Project team held a conference on August 1–3, 2022 at the Harvard College Observatory, to celebrate its first-year accomplishments since its inauguration on July 26, 2021, and make plans for the year ahead.

The conference focused on a detailed description and a demonstration of the system of instruments intended to study UAP, initially placed on the roof of the Harvard College Observatory. On a separate track, the Galileo Project plans an expedition to scoop the fragments of CNEOS 2014–01–08 from the ocean floor. Finally, the Project is engaged in designing a space mission to intercept or rendezvous with the next `Oumuamua.

These first-year activities were detailed in ten papers which were just submitted for publication, and will be made public after their peer review and acceptance for publication in a prestigious scientific journal.

The Galileo Project brings together an amazing team of brilliant volunteers with a diverse set of professional skills, all united by the desire to collect new evidence on unusual objects near Earth. The Project’s tent is intentionally broad, including advocates as well as skeptics, who are all united by the notion that better data will arbitrate the true nature of these objects. The banquet lectures were given by the team members: Lue Elizondo, former director of the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program at the Pentagon, and Professor Ed Turner from Princeton University, who presented complementary views. I had never led a group of researchers as curious and open-minded as the Galileo Project team. It is a privilege to be part of this endeavor.

The Galileo Project suite of instruments are initially tested on the roof of the Harvard College Observatory. (Photo Credit: Virk Rizwan).

The suite of UAP instruments will provide continuous monitoring of the full local sky in the infrared, visible and radio bands, as well as in audio, magnetic fields and energetic particles. The data will be analyzed by a dedicated computer system and artificial intelligence algorithms developed by the Galileo research team. The Galileo Project sensors span a regime that significantly exceeds the range of the human sensory system. For example, the audio system will record waves that extend from the ultrasound wavelength of 2 millimeter to the infrasound wavelength of 7 kilometers. The human ear is only sensitive in the wavelength range between 2 centimeter and 30 meters, as necessary for survival against most environmental threats. Sound waves with much smaller wavelengths are damped over short distances and longer wavelengths do not carry much information.

An infrared image by the Galileo team of an airplane behind the clouds.

The world-renowned Bonny Doon Vineyard in California issued a statement: “When the scientists of Harvard University gather to discuss Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) , they’re likely to work up more than just a thirst for knowledge. Fortunately, they’ll have Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare Volant, “Cuvee ‘Oumuamua” at hand, inspired by the anomalous interstellar object ‘Oumuamua,’ described in the book, “Extraterrestrial”. Convening in Cambridge, MA, August 1–3, 2022, the Galileo Project is a scientific collaboration based at Harvard and led by Professor Avi Loeb, the book’s author. The Galileo Project is developing a suite of instruments and algorithms to detect, track and study UAP and interstellar objects… Asked about the Galileo Project conference, the Vineyard founder, Randall Grahm, responded “We are honored to be included in the conference. Along with the Galileo Project, we too have had a long-standing interest in volitational objects originating not from around here.”

Scrolling through the morning news makes it obvious that the world is work in progress.

In Judaism, Tikkun olam means ‘fixing the world’. Traditionally, this notion took societal forms of action, such as legal enactments intended to preserve social order and justice. Evidence-based science should be added to these traditional practices, because it fixes our faulty illusions, often driven by lack of humility about our place in the world. Here’s hoping that the Galileo Project will fix our view of the world and in the process of doing so, fix us, by bringing a better perspective and a sense of humility to our life. I call it `Tikkun tefisat ha’olam’, which translates from Hebrew to `fixing our worldview’.

Photo Credit: Matt Checkowski (Galileo Project archive).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021.

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