Astronomers around the world were universally fascinated in 2017 when 1I/2017 U1 came cruising through the solar system. This object, known more commonly as ʻOumuamua, was the very first interstellar visitor to be detected in our solar system. Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb has gained a measure of notoriety for his claim that ʻOumuamua could be a piece of alien technology. Now, a group has backed an initiative called The Galileo Project, which will allow Loeb and others to search for more interstellar objects with the hope that one of them will be indisputably alien in origin.
ʻOumuamua started all this, but sadly, we will probably never know what it really was. The probable space rock appeared in the Pan-STARRS telescope when it was already heading out of the solar system. However, its speed and orbital trajectory proved it was not native to this part of space. It was moving so fast that no current spacecraft would be able to catch up, and it was far enough away that we couldn’t get a good look at it. Its properties were very unusual, though. That’s what led Loeb to go out on a limb and call it alien technology.
For one, ʻOumuamua isn’t shaped like the other chunks of rock we see floating around the solar system. It’s either a rod or pancake shape, either of which would be pretty odd. It also appeared to be tumbling with uneven rotational periods. Perhaps most perplexing is the small but detectable acceleration as it spun off into space. This has been attributed to comet-like outgassing that was too faint to appear in scopes, but Loeb and his supporters say this supports the idea ʻOumuamua is alien technology. For example, a piece of a defunct solar sail.
The Galileo Project is funded with about $1.75 million from a group of wealthy backers. Loeb and others will use Earth-based telescopes to go on the hunt for more interstellar objects — it would be foolish to think ʻOumuamua was literally the first… something to drift through our solar system on its way to someplace else. It was simply the first one we saw. That implies there are more of them out there, and detecting them will help us understand more about the universe outside our little pocket of it. If we’re lucky, maybe one of them will even be an alien.
Loeb describes The Galileo Project as complementary to SETI, which uses radio telescopes to search for alien life. The project will also explore unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). A US intelligence report last month listed more than 100 UAP sightings since 2004. The Galileo Project speculates that UAPs could be elements of alien technology as well. Of course, there is no proof of this. The point of The Galileo Project is to go looking for some.
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