Our Future in Space
Science offers the privilege of maintaining our childhood curiosity and answering fundamental questions based on evidence.
HUMANS RESEMBLE SEASHELLS on the beach. Each of us is born with different colors and shapes but rubbing too often against each other erodes us to an indistinguishable appearance. The regression to the mean wins when we lose our childhood curiosity and dismiss questions to which we have no answer.
A scientific question that has major implications to the future of humanity is as follows: “Did extraterrestrial neighbors on our cosmic block send equipment into space that we can find?”
In July 2021, I decided, in collaboration with Frank Laukien, to establish the Galileo Project and search experimentally for such equipment, despite the pushback from colleagues in academia. Even though I am a theorist, I chose to lead an experimental effort in the form of the Galileo Project because this scientific search for extraterrestrial relics would not have been done otherwise.
Three facts triggered this decision:
- First, the discovery in October 2017 of the unusual interstellar object, `Oumuamua, which did not look like any comet or asteroid we had seen before.
- The discovery in September 2020 of the object 2020 SO that shared `Oumuamua’s qualities of being pushed away from the Sun as a result of reflecting sunlight without a cometary tail and was later identified as a 1966 rocket booster of artificial origin.
- The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to the US Congress in June 2021, suggesting that some Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) are real objects of unknown nature.
These facts made it abundantly clear that rigorous scientific inquiry is warranted and research belongs to the mainstream of science. Even if these anomalous objects have a natural origin, like hydrogen or nitrogen icebergs for `Oumuamua or rare atmospheric phenomena for UAP, we will learn something new about nature by studying them.
We had been searching for extraterrestrial radio signals over seventy years but this search resembles a quest for a phone conversation in which the counterpart must be active. Most technological civilizations that predated us by billions of years might be dead by now or not using radio communication any more. Nevertheless, over their lifetime, they might have sent out equipment, like the five interstellar probes that NASA had launched. Such equipment accumulates in interstellar space like plastic bottles on the surface of the ocean.
Science offers the privilege of maintaining our childhood curiosity. As scientists we are given the privilege of seeking evidence rather than surrendering to the “adults in the room” who dismiss a fundamental question just because they do not know the answer to it. If `Oumuamua appears weird and if government agencies admit that they cannot figure out the nature of UAP, then scientists should come to the rescue.
Instead, the scientific search for extraterrestrial equipment in space received no funding whereas the search for weakly interacting massive particles as dark matter received hundreds of millions of dollars and did not find these hypothetical particles after forty years.
Why should we ask for extraordinary evidence before commencing a search for extraterrestrial life while regarding the latter search as mainstream, even though it is far less impactful to humanity?
The prestige of being labeled as an “expert” attaches a scientist to what is known while resisting the risk of admitting ignorance. We would rather dismiss the question “are there objects of extraterrestrial technological origin near Earth?” than admit that we might have missed an important facet of our cosmic reality.
The Galileo Project breaks this mold by engaging exceptional scientists in the study of objects like `Oumuamua or UAP. It is the first experimental research project led by dozens of scientists from academia, unified by the desire to find an answer to a foundational question through telescopes without prejudice.
In a recent forum of the Harvard Alumni Association, I suggested to enhance diversity and inclusion of our society by allowing extraterrestrials into our vocabulary, since distant civilizations are probably very different from ours. An encounter with them will allow us to imagine new colors in the cosmic rainbow of life forms. If they are far more advanced than we are, then our small genetic differences will appear meaningless. Here’s hoping that recognizing extraterrestrial species out there will convince us to treat all people on Earth with respect as equal members of the human species.
When my parents passed away a few years ago, it struck me that we live for such a short time. We often go through life with unfulfilled dreams, wearing makeup that makes us look better but obscures our authenticity. We postpone pursuing what we really care about, with the hope that there will be time for it later in life. And then we die like a pomegranate full of seeds that were never planted.
Instead of burial on Earth, our unfulfilled dreams belong to the vast interstellar space where our cosmic neighbors reside. Our future is in the space above us, not in the ground beneath our feet.
Avi Loeb is the 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 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.”
Trail of the Saucers is edited by writer/producer Bryce Zabel and published by Stellar Productions. Zabel co-hosts the popular new podcast Need to Know with Coulthart and Zabel that can be found on all major platforms.
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