David Rosenthal

The Galilei Project, Extraterrestrial and Oumuamua

Oumuamua. European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser.

“It would be arrogant to believe that we are unique in the universe.”
-Avi Loeb.

Abraham “Avi” Loeb. He was born in the moshav Beit Hanan, growing up in the midst of an agricultural world, and is now the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at the prestigious Harvard University. He is Jewish, he maintains the tradition, but he is not a practising Jew.
The Galilei Project has a historic purpose, and that is the systematic scientific search for evidence of extraterrestrial technological artefacts. It seeks to find and study whether an off-earth civilisation or civilisations possess craft and technology for interstellar travel.

Professor Loeb has been the longest-serving chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy and in 2020 Loeb was selected among the 14 most inspiring Israelis of the last decade. He is a theoretical physicist, astrophysicist and cosmologist, quite controversial in academia, as he is far ahead of his colleagues, being certain of the existence of alien life, culture and technology. He received his PhD in physics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the age of 24 and, like Galileo, is sure to revolutionise astronomy and physics.

David A. Rosenthal: How did you come to physics and astronomy?

Dr. Avi Loeb: I was born on a farm (moshav) Beit Hanan in Israel and I went to school every afternoon, when I was little I was passionate about philosophy, I read philosophy books on the tractor on the way to the farm. Then when I turned 18, I had to make a decision, to enter the Israeli army (IDF). And I had two options, to enter the defence area, doing intellectual work from physics, or to be a regular soldier, so I decided to contribute from physics, which was closer to philosophy. Also, while I was in the army, I was honoured with an elite Israel Defense Forces training programme (Talpiot) for recruits who have demonstrated excellent academic ability in science and leadership potential.

I graduated from the Plasma Physics programme at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and while in the army, I helped with the development of the Star Wars or Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) project promoted by President Ronald Reagan’s administration. The purpose of this project was to build a space-based weapons defence system capable of preventing a nuclear attack on US soil against intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

So, I began to visit the United States very often, especially Washington, and on one of the visits, Princeton University offered me a five-year fellowship, on the condition that I would teach astrophysics, becoming a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. And the great thing about astrophysics is that it has philosophical questions, but they are solved under scientific method, and one of them is: Are we the smartest people in the place?

D.A.R: What was your childhood in Moshav Beit Hanan like and how did it influence your life?

A.L: I was very connected to nature since I was a child and grew up in the midst of it. Moreover, I developed a greater appreciation of nature than most people, and even understood nature more than people themselves.
Ultimately, I was a farm boy, I had no access to any media. Also, I never had a social media account because I preferred to be focused on my world, not others. One of the things that makes space fascinating is that it is so far away from us, for example, the moon and Mars, where there is no human presence, it is the purest, most untouched nature that you can see there.

Before the pandemic I used to go jogging in the company of all kinds of animals, and I was very enriched by that contact with nature. In the end, not growing up in the city made me more independent. In fact, in my book “extraterrestrial” I relive the story of the first day I went to class and saw the children in the class jumping up and down on their desks, and I didn’t understand it, I didn’t find meaning in it. And, this is a reflection of my life and my career, trying to find meaning or understand the things that other people do that don’t make sense to me.

D.A.R: How important was it in your life to have been in the Israeli Air Force?

A.L: It gave me self-confidence to go to military service. Training so many hours a week taught me to be strong and today when I see attacks on Twitter against “aliens” I know that it’s not personal, it’s for a greater purpose. And now that the galileo project has just been launched, which aims to send telescopes to identify phenomena outside our system, such as “Oumuamua” and all the interstellar objects that we can manage to capture from Earth.
I’m trying to create a new way of understanding this topic within the scientific community, and it all takes me back to my childhood, when I was a curious kid and I still have that same curiosity. It’s a privilege to maintain that curiosity.

D.A.R: Harvard is a wonderful place, which contains much of the intellect of America and the world. Moreover, I feel at home here because it is an environment where great intellects flourish.

A.L: At this university, I have served three times as head of the astronomy department, the longest tenure I have held that position. Now I am a full professor and head the “black hole” initiative that I founded. This project brings scientists and philosophers together, as I am very interested in philosophy. Another project is to visit the nearest star to our planet. For the “black hole” project we had Stephen Hawking twice.

D.A.R: Are artificial intelligence, quantum computers and other technologies bringing humanity closer to other intelligent civilisations?

A.L: Well, artificial intelligence is already driving cars and can perform surgery, and the next step is to send probes into space. Space has a great peculiarity and that is that the distances between asteroids are light-year distances, so it takes tens of thousands of years to reach them, so artificial intelligence is the solution to this. And we’re looking for evidence of objects that are there, far away, and even civilisations that disappeared, that were there before, and that were part of intergalactic history. So, that’s the goal of the Galileo project.
Another situation is that we need computers that are smarter than we are, that through artificial intelligence will lead us to understand our cosmos and possible civilisations that were there before or that are there now.

Humanity does not yet understand the importance of space. But climate change, some geological catastrophe, or even pandemic, that could have come from a laboratory, and if we had another place or places, it would be less catastrophic for humanity. For example, the printing press created by Johannes Gutenberg in the 14th century allowed him to get several copies of the bible, so it was great, because if something happened to one, he could replace it with another.

So, space becomes a hope for the future of humanity. Likewise, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, etc., are getting to Mars, but it’s more than that. We need to think about building a platform that will allow us to live there for the long term. Think about buildings in space cities in 100 years, just as we went from jungles to South Africa at some point. Well, the future of humanity is in space.

Like Noah’s ark or Noah in the Old Testament, who built an ark to save animals of all species, in a similar way, we must do this in the future and with an eye to interstellar space. And it is not that we send animals into space, but rather DNA and artificial intelligence that can reproduce off-earth.

D.A.R: What is Oumuamua and why would it be an artefact of extraterrestrial technology?
A.L: Oumuamua is the first object discovered close to Earth, coming from outside the Solar System, and was detected in October 2017 by a telescope in Hawaii, receiving the name Oumuamua which means explorer or messenger. Oumuamua is a simple object, but it can also include asteroids or comets as well. And Oumuamua is a strange, man-made object, which leads us to think of technology from outside the earth. Also, the question is who produced Oumuamua?

D.A.R: Are there extraterrestrial civilisations much more technologically advanced than ours?

A.L: If they exist or existed, it is likely that they would have reached a higher technological level because they had more time to do so. Maybe in a few centuries, thousands of years or even billions of years, they managed to develop a far superior technology, and for us Oumuamua may be a rock, but no, it’s something else. And we are realising that we are not the smartest in the neighbourhood.

D.A.R: Do you agree with Professor General Haim Eshed’s claims about the existence of intelligent life outside the Earth? And your relationship with them, both from Israel and the United States?

A.L: The problem is that he did not provide any evidence and that is a problem, because the issue is to discuss reality. It is important to follow the scientific method to make any serious assertion. Although it doesn’t always have to be scientific evidence, it can be documents or simpler proofs.

D.A.R: What is the Galileo project and what are the expectations?

A.L: It seeks to find objects like Oumuamua, and in my book “Extraterrestrial” you can see more. We have also received information about other objects from the US security departments, because everything that flies over the US is a matter of national security.
We have also received donations for this project, for example, in one week we received 1.8 million dollars and we have a very important team of astronomers. We also need very sharp and specialised telescopes. And even to set up an observatory in Chile, to be able to capture objects like Oumuamua and other interspace elements. Our goal is to have a telescope that can send us high-quality, high-megapixel images.

D.A.R: What do we know about black holes today?

A.L: We know they exist, but we don’t have much information about them, although we now have two important pieces of evidence, one is that when two black holes collide or merge, they form space-time waves. Also, Einstein’s theory of gravity is correct and is confirmed by this. The other thing is that you can enter a black hole, but you can’t get out. And when the hole absorbs everything, there is a process of evaporation, but the question is: does the information that goes in there stay there or not?

D.A.R: When could mankind start interstellar travel, is it possible?

A.L: I don’t know. I think it is more possible to send technology or by means of artificial intelligence to communicate with the external system, rather than to make a journey to the stars. Besides, it wouldn’t be right to sacrifice animals or put them at risk, it would be better to send elements that allow us to see beyond what we know so far.

D.A.R: What is the future of humanity and how does Covid-19 affect us according to your analysis?

A.L: The future of humanity depends on our decisions, and one of them is to raise the “status” of science in society, because science is the balance between cooperation and knowledge. And cooperation, as well as information sharing, is fundamental for survival and for the future of humanity. We need to be smarter and less political. I think, if we were smarter, surely, we would have signs from other civilisations in the galaxy, saying welcome to the club of intelligent civilisations.

D.A.R: Should we rethink the “extraterrestrial” question?

A.L: Yes, it is necessary, because it is of great impact on the public and society, and it is like a prophecy, if you say that there is extraordinary evidence that can be integrated by science, but nothing is being invested in the search, nothing will be found and we will remain ignorant. It’s like the philosophers said to Galileo, that they were not going to look through the telescope because it’s not going to give us extraordinary evidence.
Knowledge is always an accessory, because you can be responsible by being ignorant. And the best example for this is Covid-19, that if you are safe at home you don’t care what happens in the world. So, knowledge of something specific is in itself beneficial, but, there are more relevant priorities in the extraterrestrial issue, but also in all issues.

D.A.R: What do you think about God?

A.L: To see that everything in the universe is organised, the beauty of nature, and all this is incredible. And you can call it God, as Spinoza did. In the same way, everything has a function and there are different actors, like the Galileo project.

About the Author
Political scientist, international analyst, researcher, journalist and columnist in various media in Latin America, Spain and Israel. Historical researcher and presenter of "Los pasos de Sefarad en el Nuevo Mundo", a radio programme on Radio Sefarad about the Sephardic heritage in America. He is also a lecturer on many subjects, such as history, literature, Judaism, historical figures, important women in history and mysticism.
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