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‘Are we the smartest kid on our cosmic block?’ Harvard astronomer launches Galileo Project to examine UFO reports

This artist's rendering shows the first interstellar asteroid: 'Oumuamua.M. Kornmesser/European Southern Observatory via AP

Prominent Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb has announced the launch of the Galileo Project, an ambitious research initiative examining whether advanced life forms exist or have existed beyond Earth.

Loeb unveiled the project during a remote news conference. He said data in recent years suggests humans aren’t the lone — nor the first — cognitively advanced species strutting about the cosmos.

“We can no longer ignore the possibility that technological civilizations predated us, and that we are not the smartest kid on our cosmic block,” said Loeb, the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science in Harvard’s Department of Astronomy.

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Loeb continued, “Most stars formed millions of years before the sun. We know that by observing star formation in the universe. And therefore, there was enough time for another technological civilization, just one, that is more advanced than ours to fill the Milky Way galaxy with probes, with objects.”

Those objects have recently caught the attention of Uncle Sam.

In June, a long-awaited US government report on UFOs did not find extraterrestrial links in reviewing 144 sightings of aircraft or other devices apparently flying at mysterious speeds or trajectories.

But the report drew few other conclusions and instead highlighted the need for better data collection about what’s increasingly seen as a national security concern. In all but one of the sightings investigated, there was too little information for investigators to even broadly characterize the nature of the incident.

There were 18 cases in which witnesses saw “unusual” patterns of movement or flight characteristics, the report said, adding that more analysis was needed to determine if those sightings represented “breakthrough” technology.

“A month after the unidentified aerial phenomena report was delivered to Congress, we decided to announce the Galileo Project,” Loeb said. “It’s a scientific [review] based on nongovernmental data that we will assemble as scientists to address the question, ‘Are we the smartest kid on our cosmic block?’”

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In recent weeks, Loeb said, donors have contributed $1.75 million toward the project, with no strings attached.

“The hope is to get 10 times more funding to accomplish a rigorous study of our goals,” Loeb said. “And of course, unidentified objects are a mixed bag, but even if only one of them is of extraterrestrial, technological origin, that would have major implications for humanity.”

He said his team intends to cull together “open data” and provide a transparent analysis of the material, “following physics as we know it.”

Harvard said in a separate statement that four years before the June report on UFOs, astronomers had discovered the first interstellar object, dubbed ‘Oumuamua,’ from outside the solar system.

‘Oumuamua, Harvard said, did not resemble any comet or asteroid seen previously.

And the Galileo Project, the statement said, will seek to “identify the nature of UAP and ‘Oumuamua-like interstellar objects using the standard scientific method based on a transparent analysis of open scientific data to be collected using optimized instruments.”

Loeb’s long been on the trail of extraterrestrials.

In late 2018, he and coauthor Shmuel Bialy published an article on ‘Oumuamua in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The article suggested the structure was perhaps an artificial object sent from an extraterrestrial civilization.

Almost immediately, the piece ignited the kind of firestorm rarely, if ever, seen in the world of modern-day astronomy.

In the months following the paper’s publication, astrophysicists from across the country spoke out against Loeb’s theory, painting him as a sensationalist and worse. But Loeb refused to back down.

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He told the Globe in 2019 that researchers whose opinions he does value have offered support for his position.

“If someone would show me evidence — a photograph of ‘Oumuamua, or clear evidence that it’s natural in origin — then I would admit it and move on,” he said at the time.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.