The Galileo Project: The US Search For Extraterrestrial Life Explained

When a rocky, cigar-shaped object about a quarter-mile long and highly elongated was discovered speeding through the solar system in October 2017, wild conjecture ensued. Was it a comet, an asteroid, or an alien spaceship (or part of one)? Could it be extraterrestrial space junk from a solar system far away? Most scientists believe the visitor, named 'Oumuamua, Hawaiian for "scout," after its discovery by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS1 telescope (via NASA), was a comet or asteroid from another star, but Harvard University theoretical physicist Avi Loeb disagreed (via Science).

Loeb believed the first known interstellar object could be some sort of alien technology. Researchers tracking it saw that it varied in brightness by a factor of 10, unlike any known comet or asteroid in the solar system, and they observed it accelerating as it spun on its axis every seven hours.

What the Galileo Project entails

Now Harvard and Loeb have launched the Galileo Project to search for similar objects by using new and existing survey telescopes (via Harvard). Loeb said the project will use "Artificial Intelligence/Deep Learning (AI/DL) and algorithmic approaches," to separate birds, balloons, or drones from manmade satellites or alien spacecraft that are surveying the planet. Galileo will also try to identify space objects much earlier than when the mysterious 'Oumuamua was found. Scientists only had two months before it moved beyond Earth's telescopes.

The program, which was funded by four wealthy investors who donated $1.75 million, according to Science, will also work on creating a future "launch-ready space mission to image unusual interstellar objects such as 'Oumuamua," in conjunction with other space agencies or private ventures, according to Loeb. But the Galileo Project is just the latest of many searches for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) in the universe, both further away and closer to home.

The European Space Agency hopes to launch a Comet Interceptor mission by 2028 and the U.S. government recently released a report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs, formerly known as Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs. The report concluded that unknown flying objects encountered by Navy pilots were not alien spacecraft, although they still can't explain what they were (via The New York Times).