A Harvard-led team is launching a new project to search for physical evidence of aliens and their technology

Artist's impression of 'Oumuamua
An artist’s impression of interstellar object ‘Oumuamua.

When the first interstellar object ever observed, ‘Oumuamua, careened past Earth in 2017, it seemed to be accelerating. That’s not what most space rocks do – which is in part why Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb says ‘Oumuamua was an alien spaceship.

Although most researchers agree that the object was a space rock – either a comet or piece of a tiny planet – Loeb thinks there are countless other objects like ‘Oumuamua whizzing by our planet, some of which could come from aliens, too. So he launched a program to find them.

On Monday, Loeb announced an initiative called the Galileo Project – after the Italian astronomer – that will search for physical evidence of alien technologies and civilizations.

“It’s a fishing expedition, let’s just go out and catch whatever fish we find,” Loeb said in a press conference. “And that includes objects close to Earth, hovering within our atmosphere, or objects that came from outside the solar system that look weird.”

The $1.75 million project, backed by at least four philanthropists, aims to use a network of Earth-based telescopes to look for interstellar objects that could be extraterrestrial in nature. The group will also hunt for potential alien ships in Earth’s orbit, as well as unidentified flying craft in our atmosphere.

Finding interstellar objects before they pass Earth

oumuamua 1I 2017 u1 solar system trajectory illustration comet asteroid or alien spaceship nasa swri esa stsci PIA22357_fig1
An illustration of ‘Oumuamua flying through the solar system in 2017.

By the time astronomers became aware of ‘Oumuamua’s existence, it was already zipping away at 196,000 mph. Several telescopes on the ground and one in space took limited observations, but astronomers had just a few weeks to study the strange, skyscraper-sized object before it got too far away.

That left many questions about what the object was and where it came from. In a book Loeb published in January, “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth,” he describes ‘Oumuamua as a defunct piece of alien technology.

“The object has anomalies that merit some attention – things that do not line up in the ways we expected,” Loeb told Insider ahead of the book’s publication, adding, “when something doesn’t line up, you should say it.”

Two years after ‘Oumuamua’s discovery, astronomers spotted a second interstellar object: a comet called 2I/Borisov. With the Galileo Project, Loeb and a team of 14 other researchers hope to spot future interstellar objects early as they approach Earth. To do this, they plan to use the Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii and an 8-meter-wide telescope currently under construction at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile.

Early detection could enable scientists to send probes to these objects, according to Frank Laukien, a visiting scholar at Harvard and a co-founder of the Galileo Project.

“We should, next time, have much better data much earlier, and maybe land on them or get very, very close to them,” Laukien said in the press conference.

Searching for signs of extraterrestrial technology

vera rubin telescope
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope building at Vera Rubin observatory at Cerro Pachón, Chile, in September 2019.

Loeb describes the new project as complementary to the SETI Institute, which searches for extraterrestrial life using radio telescopes. But the Galileo Project, he said, will search for physical evidence of alien civilizations, rather than radio signals. That includes potential alien satellites that could be orbiting Earth or fragments of extraterrestrial craft. (One of Loeb’s hypotheses is that ‘Oumuamua is a piece of lightsail or antenna that broke off a larger ship.)

Loeb also plans to examine unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, within Earth’s atmosphere.

Last month, US intelligence officials released a report describing 144 incidents since 2004 in which military personnel encountered UAPs. One of those incidents turned out to involve a deflating balloon, but the rest remain unexplained, the report concluded.

ufo uap pentagon triangle
A still from Navy footage of unidentified aerial phenomena.

“It’s an unusual admission by the government, saying there are objects in our sky we don’t fully understand,” Loeb said.

According to the Galileo Project’s website, these UAPs could be artifacts of an extinct alien civilizations or active extraterrestrial equipment. So the group hopes to image future UAPs in higher resolution by creating a network of 1-meter telescopes around the world.

Such telescopes, which cost about $500,000 each, can spot details just 1 millimeter in size on objects the size of a person a mile away.

“That could help us distinguish a label saying ‘thing made in country X,’ from a label saying, ‘made by exoplanet Y,'” Loeb said.

Avi Loeb Stephen Hawking 2016.JPG
Physicist Avi Loeb on stage in New York in 2016.

He added that the Galileo team plans to make its data public to encourage other scientists to engage in the search, too.

“Finding others on cosmic streets will help us mature – help us realize were not the sharpest cookies in the jar, and intelligent life that is way beyond us may exist out there,” Loeb said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

NASA is giving SpaceX $178 million to launch its mission to a Jupiter moon that could harbor alien life

europa clipper illustration shows spacecraft flying above icy moon with jupiter in background
This illustration, updated in December 2020, depicts NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft.

NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch its next alien-hunting mission to a Jupiter moon.

The mission, called Europa Clipper, is designed to fly past Jupiter’s moon Europa 45 times, getting as close as 16 miles above its surface. Scientists believe the moon conceals a global ocean beneath its icy crust, and alien life could thrive deep within it.

NASA announced Friday that it set a date for the mission and awarded the $178 million launch contract to SpaceX. Now Europa Clipper is scheduled to blast off aboard the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2024.

falcon heavy rocket launches engines firing through grey skies
A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launches on a demonstration flight from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Europa Clipper’s main objective is to determine whether Europa could host life at all. It aims to take high-resolution images of the moon’s surface, chart the composition and thickness of its icy crust, look for lakes below the surface, and measure the depth and saltiness of the ocean below.

The spacecraft could even fly through plumes of water vapor that shoot through Europa’s ice, since those are known to crest more than 100 miles above the surface. This water seems to come from the ocean below, and it could contain signs of life.

The reason Europa can keep water in a liquid state is that it follows an oval-shaped orbit around Jupiter. The giant planet’s gravity stretches and relaxes the moon, and that friction warms Europa’s deep underground salt water, keeping it liquid. The warmth from that process could also allow the moon to harbor deep-sea ecosystems.

SpaceX is becoming a NASA favorite

SpaceX, the rocket company Elon Musk founded in 2002, is not in the business of studying other planets. But it is in the business of launching things for NASA, and the agency is awarding the company more and more opportunities to do so.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk smiles in front of a blue background
Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship flew NASA astronauts to the International Space Station last year. It was the first time the US has launched its own astronauts since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. SpaceX is now regularly ferrying astronauts to and from the space station.

In April, NASA awarded SpaceX a contract to turn its in-development Starship megarocket into a lunar lander. The agency said Starship is set to land astronauts on the moon in 2024 (though that timeline may be unrealistic). That would be the first human moon landing since the Apollo missions ended in 1972.

The decision prompted challenges from competing rocket makers Blue Origin and Dynetics since the original plan was for NASA to pick two of the three companies for lunar-lander contracts. The protests required NASA to order that SpaceX stop work on the lunar lander.

SpaceX didn’t win its new Europa Clipper contract without contest, either. According to Eric Berger, a senior space editor for Ars Technica, Congress has spent years urging NASA to launch the mission aboard its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. But legislators finally relented due to delays in the launch system’s development, its high cost, and a recent technical issue that would require $1 billion to correct, Berger reported.

According to Berger, NASA could save nearly $2 billion by launching the mission aboard Falcon Heavy instead of SLS.

Read the original article on Business Insider

China’s new Mars probe took its first photo of the red planet as the mission prepares to make history

china mars tianwen-1 mission photo arrival orbit
A black-and-white image of Mars taken by China’s Tianwen-1 probe, released by China on February 5, 2021.

China’s first interplanetary probe is now so close to Mars that its camera can make out craters across the red planet’s surface.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft, a suite of robots launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in July, has spent the last six months speeding through space. At just 2.2 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from its destination, the probe beamed back its very first photo: a black-and-white snapshot of Mars.

The CNSA released the picture on Friday. In a press release, the agency said that the probe had fired an engine as part of its fourth “orbital correction,” or adjustment of its path through space. Now Martian gravity should pull the mission into just the right orbit around the planet.

The five-ton probe is set to carry out a braking operation to slow its high-speed spaceflight and slip into orbit around Mars on February 10. Following that, the spacecraft will spend a couple months surveying a landing site at Utopia Planitia, a vast field of ancient volcanic rock.

The orbiter is supposed to drop a lander-rover combo to the planet’s surface in May, the CNSA said. If the rocket-powered descent goes smoothly, the lander will deploy a two-track ramp  for the rover to roll onto Martian soil. The rover’s radar system will help Chinese researchers seek out underground pockets of liquid water. (The orbiter, meanwhile, will continue circling the red planet and relaying data to Earth.)

Such ancient water reservoirs could be remnants of a time billions of years ago when Mars flowed with rivers, courtesy of a much thicker and protective atmosphere than exists today. During this era, Mars somewhat resembled Earth, and scientists think it may have hosted alien microbial life. Any underground pockets of water, shielded from the sun’s unfiltered radiation and the vacuum of space, might still harbor such species, if they exist.

If successful, Tianwen-1 will be the first Mars mission to send a spacecraft into orbit, drop a landing platform, and deploy a rover all in one expedition. It will also mark China’s first landing on another planet and help the nation prepare a future mission that might return a Martian rock or dirt sample to Earth in the late 2020s.

china mars global remote sensing and small rover hx 1 martian mission illustration rendering cas xinhua
An illustration of China’s planned Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover mission, or HX-1. Here a rover is shown leaving a lander to explore the Martian surface.

As of Friday, the CNSA said Tianwen-1 is just about 1.1 million kilometers (680,000 miles) from its destination.

Two other missions which launched around the same time as Tianwen-1 – NASA’s Perseverance rover and the United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe – are also arriving at Mars in the next two weeks. All three missions are taking advantage of a window when Mars passes close to Earth, decreasing travel time and cost.

China attempted to send an orbiter to Mars in 2011, but the Russian spacecraft that was meant to carry it there stalled in Earth’s orbit and never left.

Tianwen-1 is the closest China has ever gotten to another planet. With luck – and the right engineering to weather a harrowing “seven minutes of terror” as it plunges toward Mars – it will reach the surface.

Read the original article on Business Insider