If there are evasive extraterrestrial objects in our sky, the first to notice them would be military personnel such as fighter jet pilots. Their day job is to monitor the sky for suspicious objects. Most of the time they notice natural phenomena, such as birds or thunderstorms, and human-made objects, such as weather balloons or drones. But sometimes they notice objects that have unfamiliar shapes and move in highly unusual ways, making them distinct from past experience of common terrestrial phenomena. These objects were classified as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) by the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, in her ODNI report to the US Congress.
The ODNI report acknowledged that for decades stigma prevented science and government from addressing these phenomena. Despite stigma within the military, pilots nevertheless dealt with UAP on a regular basis. They used their training and their military instruments to the best of their ability to make sense of UAP and largely were required to keep it quiet. Examples include eyewitness reports in the CBS program 60 Minutes from Navy pilots, Cmdr. Dave Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich. Scientists, the public, and the pursuit of an explanation to UAP owe these brave individuals a debt of gratitude. Now, the Galileo Project takes up the task of studying UAP scientifically.
On August 1–3, 2022, the Galileo Project held its first-year conference at Harvard University. On my drive to the conference auditorium, I listened to a new podcast of Lex Fridman with the former Navy fighter pilot Lt. Ryan Graves, who was featured in 2019 by Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal and Leslie Kean in the New York Times — as a follow-up to their breakthrough 2017 article. As I arrived at the auditorium, I had mentioned in my opening remarks the intriguing details from Lt. Graves’ testimony. A few hours later, Lt. Graves called me on my cell phone to say that he wished he could be with us at the conference. I invited him to attend our weekly Galileo team meeting a few days later.
During the meeting, Lt. Graves described incidents in which he encountered UAP on a daily basis, in some cases in near misses with his fighter jet. These objects were identified by radar, infrared and optical sensors at an elevation of 10 miles near the coast of East Virginia. Sometimes they were stationary but often they were moving at 60–80% of the speed of sound. They were visible to Navy pilot eyeballs as gray cubes inside translucent spheres, tens of feet in size, and occasionally appeared in swarms, moving in ways that cannot be reproduced by familiar birds or drones.
Eyewitness testimonies are used in the courtroom. However, they cannot be used as scientific evidence. The data that substantiates scientific claims must be obtained by well-calibrated instruments that are fully understood and under control. The Galileo Project team is motivated by such testimonies to place its suite of newly developed instruments in relevant locations and study the sky through the scientific method.
Irrespective of what the Galileo instruments find, a better understanding of UAP would serve society at large. Identifying the nature of UAP as natural or human-made objects will allow us to move on to more pressing issues of national security and the safety of military personnel and commercial flights. On the other hand, an extraterrestrial option will have major implications for the future of humanity.
Either way, we owe our gratitude to the military and the intelligence agencies for reporting on phenomena that motivate blue skies research at the frontiers of science. Here, the term `blue skies’ applies both metaphorically and literally.
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.