Suppose NASA astronauts had images of technological objects hovering above Earth that are not identified as human-made. Should they share the data with the public or worry that such an act would generate turmoil in society?
As a scientist, it is obvious to me that we must be aware of the reality around us in order to adapt to it. Ignoring climate change will not make our climate better. Ignoring the moons of Jupiter will not keep the Earth stationary. As Galileo Galilei noted: “E pur si muove“.
On June 4, 2021, NASA’s leading Administrator, Bill Nelson, said on CNN that scientists should study the nature of what is now labeled as Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP). The following morning, I emailed Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, then NASA’s Associate Administrator for Science, about possible funding of a scientific research project that would make his boss happy. Thomas graciously called my phone and asked me to send a 2-page white paper. I followed his request within hours, but he never got back to me. As a result of not hearing back, I decided to establish the Galileo Project in collaboration with Dr. Frank Laukien two months later. This scientific research project followed the narrative of my original White Paper and is supported by private donations, now totaling more than 5 million dollars, to my research program at Harvard University.
Two years later, in May 2023, the Galileo Project published 8 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the construction of its first operating UAP observatory at Harvard University. The observatory is monitoring the entire sky in the infrared, optical, radio, and audio at all times from one location. The data stream is analyzed by artificial intelligence software, which uses machine learning to classify known objects of natural or human-made origin in the search of objects that exhibit anomalous images or maneuvers.
Over the past week, I was contacted by donors who are interested in funding five copies of the first Galileo Project observatory. The data volume that we accumulated from the Harvard site is already larger than the sum of all the data associated with publicly available UAP reports from the past.
The advantage of collecting new data with well-calibrated instruments that are fully characterized, rather than relying on past anecdotal reports from uncalibrated sensors, is that we can study anomalies systematically relative to the background of known objects and aim to gather exquisite data that will resolve their nature. Claims for new physics can only be substantiated by exceptional data that cannot be interpreted otherwise. They should not be believed based on eyewitness testimonies or events that took place decades ago with compromised or classified quality.
The known correlation between the rate of UAP reports and population density or holidays like July 4th suggests that most UAP are human-made. Indeed the 2022 report of the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, suggested that half of UAP might be balloons. A few months ago, four objects were shot down by the US military, with one being a giant spy balloon made in China. Shooting down terrestrial objects reduced the clutter or noise for the Galileo Project, which aims to study truly anomalous objects. When seeking a needle in the haystack, it helps to reduce the volume of the haystack in which the needle might lie.
As head of the Galileo Project, I am interested in objects that were not made by any terrestrial manufacturer. The mission of the Galileo Project is complementary to that of the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), led by Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, which focuses on the relevance of UAP to national security.
In past years, it was common practice among scientists to ridicule the scientific study of UAP. Even the SETI community pushed back against the research program of the Galileo Project. At a recent conference, a member of the SETI leadership team approached me with one pressing question: “Avi, what is wrong with the SETI community?”
Today, NASA held a public meeting in which its UAP Study team reviewed its deliberations over the past year. The conclusion echoed the narrative of the Galileo Project. As Oscar Wilde noted: “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery.” I was delighted to see that some of the statements made today reiterated points I expressed in my writings over the past year on https://avi-loeb.medium.com/
Dr. Nicky Fox, who now heads NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in place of Dr. Zurbuchen, said that “right now there is very limited data on UAP… the lack of high-quality data does not allow us to figure out the nature of UAP… The NASA Study relies on open unclassified data … all of NASA’s data is calibrated based on rigorous protocols.”
Dr. David Spergel, chair of the Study panel, said: “The goal of the panel is to give NASA guidelines on how to contribute to the understanding of the nature of UAP … The defense data is classified because of the desire not to reveal the technical capabilities of its sensors, but NASA’s data is open … The current approach is unsystematic, often using instruments that are uncalibrated and poorly characterized … to understand UAP better, thorough data collection and rigorous analysis is needed … Another challenge is stigma, leading to many events unreported … One of our goals is to remove the stigma … We need high-quality data with well-calibrated instruments … it’s very hard to work with archival data.”
Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, the head of AARO, said: “NASA and AARO are both committed to the scientific method … While NASA focuses on open data, AARO is focused on national security issues … We are grateful for the partnership, as the US government welcomes full transparency on this subject … The resolution of all UAP cases requires partnership with the intelligence agencies, commercial entities, the scientific community, and the public … Only a small percentage of all UAP reports are anomalous … without sufficient data, we are unable to reach definitive conclusions … AARO’s work will take time… We are now studying over 800 cases… 2-5% of them are truly anomalous… The stigma is not gone and exists within the leadership … All of us have been subjected to harassment … People do not understand the scientific method… NASA should lead the scientific discourse… It is a hard problem in all domains: space, air, and undersea.”
Overall, this outcome is gratifying and represents a “win-win” development. Government agencies and academia should be working collaboratively towards the scientific collection of evidence-based knowledge on truly anomalous objects near Earth.
We should explore anomalous objects by seeking new data agnostically with well-calibrated and controlled instruments. We now know that the Galileo Project, AARO, and NASA agree on this principle. I can make one promise: if the Galileo Project will find conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial objects near Earth, the public will know about it.
In a TV interview that I had shortly before NASA’s public meeting, I was asked: “Why is it that this topic is so viral in society?” I answered: “According to a recent poll, two-thirds of Americans believe in extraterrestrial intelligence, more than the fraction of Americans that believe in God. If extraterrestrial probes arrived to us before we arrived at the senders, they are likely to represent our technological future. A civilization that can create life or baby universes in its laboratories would be a good approximation to the religious concept of a superhuman entity, commonly labeled as `God’. Indisputable scientific evidence for the reality of such an entity could unify science and religion, providing a source of awe for future generations of humans.”
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 onScience 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”, is scheduled for publication in August 2023.