The Thrill is All About the Search

Avi Loeb
5 min readMar 10, 2024


Image credit: Don David/NASA

Everyone has an opinion about UFOs, or as they are called now, UAPs (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) — following three reports from the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). National Intelligence agencies within the US government (USG) are concerned with national security. As a result of the first ODNI report, Congress established the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), which delivered a few days ago a comprehensive report about past UAP reports.

The report asserts that there is “no evidence that any USG investigation, academic-sponsored research, or official review panel has confirmed that any sighting of a UAP represented extraterrestrial technology.” AARO already stated before that they were able to explain 97% of past reports in terms of familiar objects, like drones, balloons, airplanes. This is satisfactory from a national security perspective. But from a scientific perspective, even if one in a million objects is of extraterrestrial technological origin, its discovery would be dramatic news that would change the future of humanity.

In a recent interview about the AARO report, I explained that past UAP events provide limited data and cannot be revisited. As a result, it is difficult to resolve the few percent of the UAPs that appear as truly anomalous and exceptional, such as the Chicago O’Hare UAP incident which was studied by Applied Physics scientists outside AARO and found to be puzzling. It is easy to classify events like this one as meteorological for lack of better data, but “absence of evidence on UAPs, is not evidence for absence of UAPs.”

The dark matter is a UAP in astrophysics which was ignored for many decades after Fritz Zwicky highlighted it in 1933, because of the absence of conclusive data. By now, the search for dark matter is a major research frontier in cosmology. No conclusive evidence was collected so far, but more than ten billion dollars were dedicated to pursuing the search for rare events associated with dark matter by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider and other laboratory experiments. The class of rare events here is far rarer by many orders of magnitude than the few percent remaining in AARO’s catalog. In response to those who do not understand what makes scientists excited about their job, let me paraphrase James Carville’s famous quote from 1992: “It’s the search, stupid!”

The liberating aspect of pursuing new data is that it relieves us from the need to have an opinion. We do not need to pretend to be “the adults in the room”, as politicians and government administrators often do. Rather, we can answer an exciting question by collecting the evidence, like curious children with a beginners’ mind. This was explained in a recent essay written by the playwright Josh Ravetch, who stated: “The only way to find something is to look.” As obvious as it sounds, most people choose the easier route. They prefer to have an opinion rather than invest the effort in searching for data.

The Galileo Project was founded in July 2021 to “bring the search for extraterrestrial technological signatures of Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations from accidental or anecdotal observations and legends to the mainstream of transparent, validated and systematic scientific research. This project is complementary to traditional SETI, in that it searches for physical objects, and not electromagnetic signals, associated with extraterrestrial technological equipment.”

Past UAP reports are anecdotal, relying on witnesses who happened to be at the right time at the right place. Instead, the Galileo Project observatories are monitoring the sky at all times with multiple video-audio sensors in various locations. This systematic study adds the benefits of documenting the background of natural or artificial objects which are common and thus, allowing to quantify how rare UAPs might be.

By now, the Galileo Project documented hundreds of thousands of objects from its operating observatory at Harvard University. A second observatory is being assembled in Colorado. We are using machine learning software to find out whether the objects we observe are birds, balloons, drones, airplanes or something else. In recent weeks, I was contacted by brilliant young students at Harvard and beyond, who are eager to get involved in our search. The sky is not classified and we can look up instead of waiting for AARO to tell us what is up there.

Future work by the Galileo Project, which was unfortunately not mentioned in the AARO report, will define the scientific knowledge we have about UAPs. Once our research team analyzes the results, we will share them with the scientific community and the public through peer-reviewed publications and press releases.

The disturbing reality is that some scientists who pretend to defend evidence-based science, are fast to dismiss new evidence that goes beyond their knowledge base. This practice was highlighted towards the end of a new article in the New York Times Magazine about the Young Dryas Comet Impact hypothesis. In another example, the Department of Defense satellite data on the localization of an interstellar meteor in 2014, was dismissed a few days ago by Ben Fernando and collaborators, who issued a press release about their unrefereed preprint which claimed that a signal from an unrelated seismometer in Manus Island of Papua New Guinea might have been triggered a truck. As my colleague Professor Stein Jacobsen noted: “So, for them to be right, the Department of Defense satellites picked up the signal of a truck in Papua New Guinea rather than a meteor?”

What arrives at Earth from outside the solar system should be studied by scientists who are serious about paying attention to new data, and not ridiculed by ill-motivated debunkers. The precious new knowledge we derive from scientific data should be shared by all humans, and not arbitrated in the halls of the US government. The officials occupying these halls must focus on national security matters as their day job. The study of interstellar objects is my day job.


Image credit: Chris Michel (October 2023)

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 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. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.



Avi Loeb

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