Galileo Project takes hunt for alien life mainstream

A new project to hunt down evidence of alien life in the universe has been announced, with the Galileo Project seeing Harvard lead a group of scientists determined to figure out whether or not we're alone in space. Combining ground telescopes, AI, and more, the research will focus on physical examples of alien intelligence, rather than electromagnetic signals from distant civilizations.

The goal is to find real scientific evidence for existing or extinct extraterrestrial technological civilizations, or ETCs. As an example of what future occurrences might be of interest, Galileo Project head Professor Avi Loeb points to the mysterious 'Oumuamua first spotted in 2017.

'Oumuamua was an elongated, pancake-shaped rock that passed through our solar system. Its fly-by may have been brief, but it prompted plenty of speculation about just what the object could be. That was only fueled when astronomers identified atypical qualities not usually associated with asteroids.

"Based on astronomical observations, 'Oumuamua turned out to have highly anomalous properties that defy well-understood natural explanations," Loeb points out. "We can only speculate whether 'Oumuamua may be explained by never seen before natural explanations, or by stretching our imagination to 'Oumuamua perhaps being an extraterrestrial technological object, similar to a very thin light-sail or communications dish, which would fit the astronomical data rather well."

'Oumuamua, scientists eventually concluded, was likely a piece of a Pluto-like planet that had sheered off in a neighboring solar system. Its absence of detectable escaping gas, meanwhile, was put down to a combination of different ices which sublimated at different rates as it passed near stars like our Sun. One theory, for example, is that it is primarily made of frozen nitrogen.

All the same, Loeb argues, it's hard to avoid the possibility that other civilizations are out there, and that the evidence of their existence could one day pass us by. "Given the recently discovered abundance of habitable-zone exoplanets, with potential for extraterrestrial life, the Galileo Project is dedicated to the proposition that humans can no longer ignore the possible existence of ETCs," he suggests. "Science should not reject potential extraterrestrial explanations because of social stigma or cultural preferences that are not conducive to the scientific method of unbiased, empirical inquiry."

The Galileo Project will attempt to apply "known physics" to explain newly-observed physical objects. It'll combine a network of mid-sized, high-resolution telescopes and detector arrays with AI and deep leaning technology, so as to sift through what could be evidence of an ETC object from other, more humdrum explanations. "The data will be open to the public and the scientific analysis will be transparent," the group insists.

What it won't attempt to do, however, is sift back through old "evidence" of UFOs and similar to figure out which might be real. That sort of speculation is "not conducive to cross-validated, evidence-based scientific explanations," the Galileo Project says.