Astrophysicist pleads for scientific investigation

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The search for life beyond Earth has long inspired all and some – and eyes raised in others. But in recent years, new reporting has made it clear that there really have been some hard-to-explain encounters between humans and something that could harness technology that seems straight out of science fiction. One scientist who takes research seriously is Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb, who has joined GBH All things Considered Friday. He is the leader of the new Galileo project, which will search space for possible evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization. The following is a slightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: So tell us, what inspired you to launch the Galileo project?

Avi Loeb: Two things. In 2017, there was an object – the first that was identified from outside the solar system that came close to Earth – and it was unlike anything we’ve seen before. It didn’t look like a comet, it didn’t behave like an asteroid.

Rath: The subject of our last conversation.

Loeb: Yes. And I thought maybe it was of artificial origin. And, in fact, I wrote a book about it, Extraterrestrial, which was published six months ago. And then a month ago a report was delivered to Congress saying, there are things in the sky over the United States that are unidentified in nature. And you’d think that’s serious business, because intelligence agencies admit they’re not doing their job. Their job is to protect us from adversaries, to identify anything that flies in our skies. And here they come to Congress and say, “There are certain objects that we believe to be real, but we don’t understand their nature. They do not behave in a manner consistent with the technologies developed by humans.

And so I come and I say, ‘Great, well, this is a fascinating subject, very intriguing. Let’s try to understand it as scientists. And in fact, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the same thing around that time. So I approached people under him and said, “Here I am to serve and make your boss happy. Noone answered me. And then a week later, I was approached by a few wealthy people that I had never met before who said, ‘Here is, in total, $ 1.75 million, with no strings attached. Go ahead and do what you think is right. And I said, OK, well, this is a great opportunity to put together a team of outstanding scientists who will try to collect new data.

So in a way I behave like a kid, because when you come to see a kid and you tell him, ‘It’s the truth,’ the kid says, ‘I don’t believe you, I go check it out. ‘ And that’s pretty much the nature of scientific research. We maintain our childhood curiosity. We will build our own telescopes, watch the sky – the sky is unrated – and try to find out the nature of these strange objects.

Rath: I think, given how you describe it, with the release of this report we’re talking about, I think scientists would be universally very excited – because isn’t there a love for mystery in terms of ability to explain extraordinary data? What has been the general reaction of the scientific community, or has there been a lot of reaction, beyond you?

Loeb: Well that was the exact opposite of what you or I would expect. And the only reason we’re both talking is because for some reason other people aren’t using common sense. I don’t understand, frankly. You know, I’m pretty curious about the world – I don’t care how many likes I have on Twitter – and I keep my eyes on the ball, not the audience. But there are a lot of people who care about how many likes they have on Twitter who try to sound smart, pretend they know more than they actually know and avoid topics that could be considered controversial.

There is a stigma about it, but I think it is not justified because the public cares a lot about it and public funds fund science. And by engaging in that with scientific instruments, you know, we can attract more funds to support science, we can attract a lot of young people who will engage in science. And it’s not just a theory. I proved it last week. I got funding they didn’t ask for and have received thousands of emails since the program announced from people interested in getting involved and helping – scientifically – the project. So, I rest my case.

Rath: So this information has been released by the government now. Is there enough data to get you started? Where are you going from here?

Loeb: Yeah, so I don’t want to look at the classified data because that would limit my freedom. I want to get new data that will be open to the public and will be analyzed in a transparent way. And that’s what we plan to do. We plan to buy commercial telescopes, small telescopes – an array of tens to hundreds of telescopes, depending on the money we have now. We have $ 1.75 million. If we get 10 times that, then we can pretty much get a very comprehensive sky survey done. And basically, we will be deploying these telescopes in many places around the Earth. They will be connected to cameras that will transmit the data to computers, which will analyze it and identify objects of interest. And then the telescopes will follow these objects. And of course, the key to all of this is having computer systems that filter data and, in real time, identify objects of interest.

Rath: And you talked about how there seems to be a stigma attached to even talking about it among scientists. Is there any sense that this is changing? I mean, you got a lot of interest in your book and, now, this project.

Loeb: You know, in the thousand and more interviews that I have had in the last six months, I have had the opportunity to speak with many young people. And the conclusion is simple. Let’s do it. Let’s forget what the public is saying. Let’s just keep our eyes on the ball and let’s do it. And eventually, people would join in. The way we advance in science is to be curious, willing to take risks, and to see it as a learning experience. You know, it’s quite permissible that we are wrong. So if we look at new data on the sky and find a mundane explanation for all these UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena – so be it. We are learning something new. There must be some exotic phenomena taking place in our atmosphere. The only way not to learn something new is to say: as usual let’s ignore it and ridicule anyone who tries to suggest we should get more evidence.

Rath: The report that the government released on these unidentified aerial phenomena, they did not consider that it could be due to extraterrestrial intelligence, but they also did not give an explanation of what was happening on Earth. . It certainly makes good sense that like this inexplicable technology, things flying in the air, you might imagine that this is an alien civilization, but are there any other explanations that have to do with it? sense, or are your fellow scientists or someone else suggesting something plausible – other than extraterrestrial activity?

Loeb: Well, unfortunately the data that has been made public is not of sufficient quality. You know, it was gotten into an unstable camera that was in the cockpit of a fighter plane. And that’s not the kind of data you can use for scientific investigation because you don’t have full control over your experimental setup. And in science, you can’t trust eyewitness testimony. Of course, in the courtroom, if there is corroborating eyewitness evidence, that is enough to put the person in jail. But you can’t write a scientific article based on what people tell you. It is not good enough.

What you need are instruments that record the quantitative data that you analyze, and that is what we expect to achieve. Rather than relying on previous testimonials or reports that do not stand up to the scrutiny of modern science, let’s just get the data and find out. Again, like children, the Harvard Gazette – Harvard University’s Pravda – asked me what the one thing I would like to change about my colleagues? And I replied, I would like them to behave more like children.

Rath: Professor Loeb, again it’s great to talk to you, and let’s check once that you have some data to discuss.

Loeb: Yes, you would be the first to know if you find any evidence of AI systems from another civilization.

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