Harvard professor leading research on existence of UFOs and alien civilizations

Some of our questions about the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrial civilizations could be answered by a new international research project led by Harvard University.

The Galileo Project, led by Harvard astronomy professor Avi Loeb, will search for a record of alien civilizations capable of technology surpassing what we know on Earth. It will use telescope observations, missions that send cameras into space and more..

"Given the recently discovered abundance of Earth-Sun systems, the Galileo Project is dedicated to the proposition that humans can no longer ignore the possible existence of Extraterrestrial Technological Civilizations (ETCs)," the team said in a statement.

The project comes on the heels of the government's report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena and an interstellar object, Oumuamua, that entered our solar system in 2017 as reasons to search and confirm the presence of ETCs.

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Loeb told USA TODAY that the idea for the project is that "in the future, we will find more objects from interstellar space, and those that look peculiar we should follow up by sending a camera on a space rocket that gets close to them and taking a close-up photograph."

He added that the project will allow scientists to take a further look into unidentified objects in space after the government's report was released last month.

"Those military personnel and politicians that talk about these Unidentified Aerial Phenomena were not trained by scientists, and it's sort of like asking the plumber to bake you a cake," Loeb told USA TODAY. "We should not ask them to figure out what objects in the sky are all about. That’s the job of scientists."

The team, which includes professors from Princeton, Cambridge and Stockholm universities, will study existing and future astronomical surveys along with artificial intelligence to identify interstellar objects that defy current scientific explanations.

The data collected will be available to the public, and the team said the process would be transparent.

Loeb noted that the project may not find groundbreaking evidence on interstellar objects, but he explained that the research will still help scientists understand other "atmospheric phenomena."

"It's just like a fishing expedition," he said. "You don't know what you will find, and I don't want to make any assumptions."

But he still called the project "one of the most fascinating questions that science can address."

"It will have huge implications on society, on humanity," Loeb said. "If we find evidence for a smarter kid on our cosmic block, it will change the way we think about our place in the universe, our relations with each other," he said.

"If we close the shutters on our windows and say ‘We don't have neighbors. We are the smartest, and give me extraordinary evidence before I will be willing to look through my window,’ then we will maintain our ignorance, just like in the days of Galileo."

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Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: agilbert@usatoday.com.

Follow reporter Marina Pitofsky @marina_pitofsky. Email: mpitofsky@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Project seeking UFOs and alien civilizations to be led by Harvard