'Galileo Project' will search for evidence of extraterrestrial life from the technology it leaves behind

Astronomers have announced a new venture designed to advance humankind's search for artifacts from extraterrestrial technological civilizations (ETCs) — The Galileo Project. The project aims to address the question "are we the smartest kids on our cosmic block?" Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, a co-founder of the initiative, said in a news conference about the big announcement today (July 26).

Loeb co-founded the ambitious project together with Frank Laukien, the chairman, president and CEO of Bruker Corp., a Massachusetts-based company that develops and manufactures science equipment. 

The international team worked with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts to design the project with one main goal in mind — "to bring the search for extraterrestrial technological signatures from accidental or anecdotal observations and legends to the mainstream of transparent, validates and systematic scientific research," the researchers said in a statement.

Related: 9 strange, scientific excuses for why humans haven't found aliens yet

Artist's illustration of 'Oumuamua, the first confirmed interstellar object ever spotted in our solar system. (Image credit: M Kornmesser/ESO)

Over the past two weeks, the project has received donations totaling $1.755 million from donors, creating the foundation for the Galileo Project, Loeb said in today's news conference.

The Galileo Project supports the search for not just extraterrestrial life itself, but for evidence of advanced civilizations that could leave behind clues through the technology they have created — breadcrumbs known as technosignatures.

"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," Loeb said in the statement. "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. We now must 'dare to look through new telescopes', both literally and figuratively."

Earth is no stranger to extraterrestrial visitors. According to a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that was delivered to Congress on June 25, a number of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) — their nature unknown — were reported primarily by Navy personnel across multiple sensors including radar, infrared, electro-optical, weapon seekers and visual observation. 

One particularly well-known cosmic voyeur to originate outside our solar system was the pancake-shaped object 'Oumuamua, discovered tumbling through our neighborhood on Oct. 19, 2017. This strange out-of-towner didn't resemble any comet or asteroid observed before and sparked a debate across the astronomy community with regards to its true identity and origin. The Galileo Project aims to settle this debate by identifying the true nature of UAP and 'Oumuamua-like interstellar objects. 

With such a potentially far-reaching project in terms of scientific advancement and exploration of the universe, it is important to lay down some ground rules from the start, Laukien said in the news conference. "It is very important that we keep in mind that the Galileo Project is not for everything, and it is not for everyone," Laukien said. "It has a defined scope, and it has limitations."

The venture will only entertain known physics explanations and analyze data collected as part of the Galileo Project. It will not attempt to speculate on prior UAP, alleged observations or informal reports, the researchers said in the statement.

"We can infer the nature perhaps of these unidentified objects. It may well be some atmospheric phenomenon or some other origin that has a mundane explanation, but we want to figure it out", Loeb said in the news conference. "We want to clear the fog through a transparent and scientific analysis by assembling our own data, not data based on government-owned sensors, because most of that data is classified."

The researchers hope to shed light on extraterrestrial phenomena by following three major avenues of research: obtaining high-resolution images of UAP using multiple detectors to discover their nature, conducting in-depth research on 'Oumuamua-like interstellar objects, and searching for potential ETC satellites. 

Having secured some funds, the team plans to hit the ground running. "We have team meetings on a weekly basis and we are currently selecting the instruments that we plan to purchase," said Loeb in the press conference. "We are planning to get some interesting results in the coming year, hopefully." 

Currently, the project is aiming to set up tens of telescope systems around the world. Each telescope system will consist of approximately two 10-inch (25-centimeter) telescopes with a camera suitable to resolve objects of interest, connected to a computer system that will filter out data, according to Loeb in today's news conference. The team will also work to develop software that will analyze data collected from the Vera Rubin Observatory that is expected to come online in 2023.

The Galileo Project has been boldly likened to the work of pioneering Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, whose groundbreaking discoveries altered humankind's view of the universe. 

"The importance of the potential discoveries of rigorously validated scientific evidence of extraterrestrial technology may be similar in impact on astronomy and our world view as Galileo's pioneering use of telescopes for astronomical observations were in history," Galileo Project officials reported on the project website. Therefore the project is appropriately named in his honor. 

The Galileo Project is funded by donations and pledges by various individuals and foundations. The research team and advisory boards are detailed on the Galileo Project website. You can keep up to date with the project on both Twitter and Instagram.

Full disclosure: Space.com senior writer Mike Wall moderated the Galileo Project announcement and news conference on July 26.

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Daisy Dobrijevic
Reference Editor

Daisy Dobrijevic joined Space.com in February 2022 having previously worked for our sister publication All About Space magazine as a staff writer. Before joining us, Daisy completed an editorial internship with the BBC Sky at Night Magazine and worked at the National Space Centre in Leicester, U.K., where she enjoyed communicating space science to the public. In 2021, Daisy completed a PhD in plant physiology and also holds a Master's in Environmental Science, she is currently based in Nottingham, U.K. Daisy is passionate about all things space, with a penchant for solar activity and space weather. She has a strong interest in astrotourism and loves nothing more than a good northern lights chase!