Galileo Would Have Been Proud of Our Project

A dozen Galileo Project members gathered in the backyard of my home this weekend. We celebrated the conclusion of a historic week since the Project was conceived a year ago, inspired by Galileo Galilei’s legacy of finding answers to fundamental questions by looking through new telescopes. They all told me for the first time that they were interested in following this research program long before the Project was established, and were delighted to get engaged when I received generous funding for pursuing it.

Our first telescope system is now being assembled on the roof of the Harvard College Observatory and will start collecting preliminary data on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in the coming weeks. Astronomers have been using telescopes for centuries, but they focused on distant sources within limited fields of view and ignored fast-moving objects in their immediate vicinity. Our novel observing strategy employs state-of-the-art cameras and computers that monitor the entire sky in the optical, infrared and radio bands, as well as in audio, magnetic field and energetic particles signals.

Richard Cloete, appointed recently as the Laukien-`Oumuamua postdoctoral fellow thanks to a generous donation by the Project co-founder Frank Laukien, showed an image of the fisheye camera on a window shelf in his Harvard office. To my eyes it appeared more beautiful than a vase of flowers. The video of the sky provided by this camera will be fed to computers which will analyze it with artificial intelligence algorithms to distinguish natural objects, like bugs, birds, cloud patterns or meteors, from human made objects, like drones, airplanes, weather balloons or satellite. As Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes noted: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The Galileo Project was recently blessed with two additional donations for future postdoctoral fellowships, one named the Keto-Galileo Fellowship thanks to a donation from the Galileo Project member, Eric Keto, and the second funded by the prestigious Brinson Foundation.

It is noteworthy that after a year of meticulous design by our engineers and scientists including: Alex Delacroix, Sergei Dobroshinsky, Ezra Kelderman, Eric Keto, Sarah Little, Eric Masson, Andy Mead, Gary Melnick, Mitch Randall, Paul Sail, Forrest Schultz, Matthew Szenher, John and Gerry Tedesco, Foteini Vervelidou and Wes Watters, all components of the instrumentation fit seamlessly like a glove.

Our youngest team members are the undergraduate students: Carson Ezell, Kaylie Hausknecht and Amir Siraj from Harvard College and Spencer Dockal, Michelle Tu and Abby White from Wellesley College. As they were showing the rest of our team the new roof installations, I told them: “You will carry the torch of our discoveries forward, long after many of the senior team members are gone.”

Once our local telescope system will operate as desired, we will ship a copy of it to another geographical location, more ideally suited for collecting UAP data. We are also planning to study publicly available satellite data looking at UAP from above.

The success of our collaborative effort stems from our common goal to obtain new scientific data that will shed light on the nature of unusual objects near Earth. The Congressional UAP hearing in May and NASA’s announcement of a new UAP study in June this year, reiterate the timeliness of our scientific research.

Managing a project with more than a hundred members is not trivial. I never served as a marriage counselor, but the best advice I can imagine giving couples is simple: focus on what you agree on and avoid getting distracted by peripheral disputes. For the Galileo Project, this translates to the advice basketball coaches often give their team members: “Keep your eyes on the ball and ignore the audience.” There are historic precedents of communities that were destroyed by not adhering to this simple principle. For example, according to the Talmud, the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred within factions of the Jewish community. Similarly, the Tower of Babel was never constructed because the city members lost a common language. The fundamental task of good leadership is to maintain the unifying thread within its community.

If the Galileo Project will find indisputable evidence for an object that is not natural or human-made, then this finding would be a teaching moment for humanity. It might provide a simple answer to Fermi’s paradox: “where is everybody?”, in the form of: “right here.” Scientists have been searching for sixty years for radio signals from planets around distant stars, but they neglected to check systematically for visitors to our backyard.

A second branch of the Galileo Project involves the design of a space mission to rendezvous with unusual interstellar objects like `Oumuamua, in the spirit of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission — which landed on the asteroid Bennu, or ESA’s plan for a future Comet Interceptor — which is severely limited in its maneuvering speed. Finally, a third branch of the Project involves a plan for an expedition to retrieve fragments from the first interstellar meteor CNEOS 2014–01–08 from the ocean floor near Papua New Guinea.

It was an eye-opening experience to learn first lessons from the new experiences of the Galileo Project scientists. If Galileo Galilei was alive today, he would have been invited as an honorary member of the Project and a frequent visitor to my backyard.

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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Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb

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Avi Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr Professor of Science and Institute director at Harvard University and is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial”.