“Am I wasting my time? That was the question I asked the two visitors who had come to my house from Washington, DC a few days ago.
“Not at all,” they assured me.
Over the past three decades I have written a thousand scientific papers and three textbooks on early stars and galaxies, reionization, 21cm cosmology, cosmic inflation, dark matter, black holes, search for extraterrestrial life and the future of the Universe.
But lately I have become intrigued by the anomalous shape and non-gravitational acceleration of the first interstellar object ‘Oumuamua, and the unprecedented material strength of the first interstellar meteor, IM1. But my question to my guests was about the possibility of an extraterrestrial technological origin for some of the anomalous objects that the US government cannot identify in our skies.
There is no clear scientific data that indicates the nature of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP). And that is precisely why I lead the Galileo project, which is currently operating a new observatory at Harvard University and plans to assemble at least two more this year.
In particular, I have been working for decades on the nature of dark matter in the Universe. Just as in the case of UAP, the nature of this substance is unknown, but the intellectual culture of cosmologists is open-minded. It has been considered legitimate to explore hypothetical axions, the lightest supersymmetric particles, weakly interacting particles of a wide variety of masses, or primordial black holes, as possible explanations for the nature of dark matter. Such possibilities have inspired experimental work that has ruled out the parameter space. Innovation has been cultivated out of raw curiosity because the nature of something is puzzling.
Consider this unlike how scientists view UAP. The SETI community has banned any discussion of the UAP in its conferences. Many SETI practitioners are not only lukewarm about the possibility that UAP could represent technosignatures of extraterrestrial origin, they would rather not even hear about this possibility in their lectures.
The fact that I’m agnostic and willing to find the answer from new data is seen as a “problem” for some of them, so much so that a 2021 comment by Seth Shostak on the legitimacy of the survey scientist on the nature of UAP is considered a rare gesture of generosity. Traditionally, the SETI community was defined by the pioneering work of Frank Drake as the search for radio and laser signals. But what if instead of waiting for a phone call, we consider the possibility that there is a package in our mailbox and look for it? Should this be considered such a radical possibility that it should be avoided in scientific conferences?
The SETI community’s response to the UAP search is a remarkable display of academic intolerance of a particular variant of the “technosignature” search, similar to a cat accustomed to drinking cow’s milk and deeply hating the use of the word “milk”. for almond milk. It would be unprofessional for particle physicists trying to detect the lightest supersymmetric particle by smashing high-energy protons in the Large Hadron Collider to ban any discussion of axions from their scientific lectures.
The daily job of intelligence agencies and military personnel is to survey the skies for objects that may pose a threat to national security and the safety of the nation. They will be the first to notice anomalous objects in the sky, like UAP. It is the civil duty of scientists, such as those engaged in open data within the Galileo project, to help them understand the nature of UAP. The sky is not classified.
There is, of course, a lingering possibility that I am naïve and that UAPs are smoke and mirrors. In this case, we will know. That’s why I asked my DC guests if I was wasting my time. I don’t have access to classified data and publicly available data is unconvincing. But the known facts are intriguing enough to get me going. Just as the nature of dark matter has inspired me to write many scientific papers as a theoretical astrophysicist.
Of course, the reason UAP research is toxic to so many scientists is the unsubstantiated claims of people who have witnessed unusual phenomena, to the point that a hole in the clouds is considered a “wormhole”. or a “faster than light” channel. for traveling. This is perhaps no more fantastic than working on a wormhole as a mathematical construct in the extra dimensions of string theory. But what “believers” of all persuasions fail to understand is that the new physics demands delicious data, not bad quality data.
New physics is not a consequence of bad data. Rather, it’s about getting very high-quality data that leaves us with no choice but to consider new physics beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that twenty years ago someone claimed to see dark objects moving extremely rapidly through the air without creating a fireball does not make a similar claim from Ukrainian astronomers corroborating the evidence of new physics. Instead, we need triangulation to be sure of the distance to these dark objects, and only then can we assert that they are moving at such high speeds that the lack of a fireball around them is abnormal.
The path to new scientific knowledge is paved by high-quality data from well-calibrated instruments that are fully understood and under control. Not collecting this data by guessing the answer in advance is a circular argument because we are not allowing nature to inform us of the truth. Indeed, getting the answer requires a major effort, and extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary funding. But if scientists are funded and willing to engage in the search for evidence, they should be allowed to present their scientific findings at related conferences.
In the current circumstances regarding UAP, it makes more sense to collect new data rather than discussing the implications of compromised data from the past or asking the government to declassify data it has collected with classified sensors at sites. strategic.
What surprises me is how vulnerable science is to the same weaknesses as politics. Polarization separates people at times when we should all unite around the goal of gathering better evidence out of raw curiosity. Our fundamental flaw is the temptation to make up a story before knowing all the facts. This leads to opposing points of view, creating tribes of belief and hatred.
Recently, I chose to begin my lectures by declaring that I am a farm boy. This statement has two parts. The first is that I was born on a farm and want to find the truth directly in nature and not in the gospel. We can call it: Farm-to-table science. The second is that I’m still the same boy I was half a century ago. I see my life as a learning experience and ask questions at the dinner table to which the “adults in the room”, whether SETI professionals or mainstream astronomers, have well-rehearsed but unsubstantiated answers. . When I notice they don’t make sense, I leave the room and search for the evidence – like a curious child would.
Fortunately, I am not alone. The company of the Galileo project team, supporters and funders makes my life worth living. And if we find something along the way, you’ll be the first to know. Be patient, collecting scientific data takes time. But if there is fruit within reach, you will soon find out.
Avi Loeb is head of the Galileo Project, founding director of the Harvard University – Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and former chairman of the astronomy department of the Harvard University (2011 -2020). He chairs the Advisory Board for Project Breakthrough Starshot and is a former member of the President’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology and a former Chairman of the National Academies Board of Physics and Astronomy. He is the best-selling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and co-author of the “Life in the Cosmos” textbook, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, is due for publication in August 2023.
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