The project is far from the first attempt to detect signs of civilizations beyond Earth. Loeb has been criticized in the past for his contemptuous approach to previous efforts to find extraterrestrial life and for his argument that an alien artifact passed through our solar system in 2017.
So why do Loeb and his collaborators believe they have a chance to find something in which others have failed? There are three triggers that suggest they could.
Exoplanets, ‘Oumuamua and UFOs
First, years of careful observation have shown that many stars are home to Earth-like planets. There is a real possibility that these “exoplanets” may be home to alien civilizations.
Second, five years ago, an interstellar visitor, named ‘Oumuamua’, fell through our solar system. It was a thin object about 400 meters long, and from its speed and trajectory we know that it came from outside our solar system. It was the first time we saw an interstellar object enter our neighborhood.
Unfortunately, he caught us in the jump and we didn’t realize it until he came out. So we didn’t get a chance to see it very well.
Scientists were divided on the question of what could be ‘Oumuamua. Many thought it was simply a fragment of interstellar rock, although we had no idea how this fragment could be produced or extracted.
Others, including Loeb, thought there was a possibility that it was a spaceship from another civilization. Some scientists considered these claims to be unreasonable. Others pointed out that science should be open-minded and, in the absence of a good explanation, we should examine all plausible solutions.
Today the issue is still pending. We don’t know if ‘Oumuamua was a spaceship or just an inert mass of rock.
The third trigger of the Galileo Project was the US Army. In June, the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence announced that some military reports of UFOs or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) as they are now known, appear real.
Specifically, the report said that some UAPs “probably represent physical objects since most UAPs were recorded through multiple sensors” and no explanation was known for them.
In other words, they are not meteorological phenomena, nor defective instruments, nor weather balloons, nor clandestine military experiments. So what are they?
Once again, the question hangs. The report seems to rule out known technology and suggests “advanced technology,” but fails to suggest that it is the work of foreigners.
Science to the rescue
Loeb opines that instead of debating whether Oumuamua or UAP provide evidence of alien intelligence, we should do what scientists are good at: get some reliable data.
And, according to him, scientists are the people who do it, not politicians or military personnel. As the U.S. report says, the sensors used by the military “are not generally adequate to identify UAPs.”
Few topics divide scientists as much as the existence of aliens. On the one hand, there are serious SETI (Extraterrestrial Intelligence Search) projects, such as Project Phoenix and Breakthrough Listen, which use the world’s largest telescopes to look for signals of some extraterrestrial intelligence.
At the other extreme, few scientists are convinced by the fuzzy photographs and dubious eyewitness accounts that seem to characterize many
The Galileo Project is very different from SETI research or UFO sighting collections. Instead, it will explicitly search for evidence of alien artifacts, either in space or on Earth.
But is it science?
Is it science? Loeb is convinced that yes. He argues that the Galileo Project will provide scientific techniques and knowledge on one of the most important questions we can ask: are we alone? And the project will build specifically designed equipment, optimized for the detection of alien artifacts.
Will you find anything? The odds are poor, as Loeb admits. In essence, it is a fishing expedition. But if there is a prima facie case of the existence of alien technology, science has a duty to investigate it.
But suppose they find something? Will we get to talk about it or will it be closed in some future Area 51?
The Galileo Project has promised that all data will be made public and that all results will be published in peer-reviewed journals. In fact, one of the reasons it will not use existing military data is because much of it is classified, which would restrict the project’s freedom to make the results public.
Or maybe the project will find natural explanations for “Oumuamua and UAPs”. But even this will be a new scientific discovery, perhaps revealing of new natural phenomena.
As Loeb says: Whenever we look at the sky in a new way, we find something new. We will find something exciting, no matter what.
This article is syndicated by PTI from The Conversation. Ray Norris is a professor in the Western Sydney University School of Science.