When the first interstellar object ever observed, ‘Oumuamua, careened past Earth in 2017, it seemed to be accelerating. That’s not what most space rocks do – which is in part why Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb says ‘Oumuamua was an alien spaceship.
Although most researchers agree that the object was a space rock – either a comet or piece of a tiny planet – Loeb thinks there are countless other objects like ‘Oumuamua whizzing by our planet, some of which could come from aliens, too. So he launched a program to find them.
On Monday, Loeb announced an initiative called the Galileo Project – after the Italian astronomer – that will search for physical evidence of alien technologies and civilizations.
“It’s a fishing expedition, let’s just go out and catch whatever fish we find,” Loeb said in a press conference. “And that includes objects close to Earth, hovering within our atmosphere, or objects that came from outside the solar system that look weird.”
The $1.75 million project, backed by at least four philanthropists, aims to use a network of Earth-based telescopes to look for interstellar objects that could be extraterrestrial in nature. The group will also hunt for potential alien ships in Earth’s orbit, as well as unidentified flying craft in our atmosphere.
Finding interstellar objects before they pass Earth
By the time astronomers became aware of ‘Oumuamua’s existence, it was already zipping away at 196,000 mph. Several telescopes on the ground and one in space took limited observations, but astronomers had just a few weeks to study the strange, skyscraper-sized object before it got too far away.
That left many questions about what the object was and where it came from. In a book Loeb published in January, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” he describes ‘Oumuamua as a defunct piece of alien technology.
“The object has anomalies that merit some attention – things that do not line up in the ways we expected,” Loeb told Insider ahead of the book’s publication, adding, “when something doesn’t line up, you should say it.”
Two years after ‘Oumuamua’s discovery, astronomers spotted a second interstellar object: a comet called 2I/Borisov. With the Galileo Project, Loeb and a team of 14 other researchers hope to spot future interstellar objects early as they approach Earth. To do this, they plan to use the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii and an 8-meter-wide telescope currently under construction at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile.
Early detection could enable scientists to send probes to these objects, according to Frank Laukien, a visiting scholar at Harvard and a co-founder of the Galileo Project.
“We should, next time, have much better data much earlier, and maybe land on them or get very, very close to them,” Laukien said in the press conference.
Searching for signs of extraterrestrial technology
Loeb describes the new project as complementary to the SETI Institute, which searches for extraterrestrial life using radio telescopes. But the Galileo Project, he said, will search for physical evidence of alien civilizations, rather than radio signals. That includes potential alien satellites that could be orbiting Earth or fragments of extraterrestrial craft. (One of Loeb’s hypotheses is that ‘Oumuamua is a piece of lightsail or antenna that broke off a larger ship.)
Loeb also plans to examine unidentified aerial 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. One of those incidents turned out to involve a deflating balloon, but the rest remain unexplained, the report concluded.
“It’s an unusual admission by the government, saying there are objects in our sky we don’t fully understand,” Loeb said.
According to the Galileo Project’s website, these UAPs could be artifacts of an extinct alien civilizations or active extraterrestrial equipment. So the group hopes to image future UAPs in higher resolution by creating a network of 1-meter telescopes around the world.
Such telescopes, which cost about $500,000 each, can spot details just 1 millimeter in size on objects the size of a person a mile away.
“That could help us distinguish a label saying ‘thing made in country X,’ from a label saying, ‘made by exoplanet Y,'” Loeb said.
He added that the Galileo team plans to make its data public to encourage other scientists to engage in the search, too.
“Finding others on cosmic streets will help us mature – help us realize were not the sharpest cookies in the jar, and intelligent life that is way beyond us may exist out there,” Loeb said.