Over the last century, we have seen an exponential increase in the understanding of the physical universe. International observatories on Earth and in space have produced magnificent images spanning the full range from the small scale of black holes to the large-scale structure of the entire observable universe. Now, we are in the midst of a discovery of even greater magnitude, but few are even acknowledging it. And incredibly, it is what many regard as the modern icon of quack science – unidentified objects, traditionally labeled UFOs, that may represent technological equipment manufactured by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.
Almost overnight UFOs have gained acceptance by the government and some in academia as worthy of scientific study. With this shift came a new label from the U.S. military: unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). Now, they are increasing the target of dedicated research, including Harvard University’s Galileo Project in search for extraterrestrial equipment near earth as well as Stanford University's independent research program on unusual materials. They are also the reason behind the establishment of a new office in the Pentagon charged with establishing a science plan to:
1) Account for characteristics and performance of UAP that exceed known science or technology, including propulsion, aerodynamics, materials, sensors, countermeasures, weapons, electronics and power generation
2) Provide the foundation for possible investments to replicate these advanced characteristics and performance
In fact, this language is the direct result of members of Congress including it in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
All this has stemmed from three videos of UAPs captured by Navy pilots and officially released by the Pentagon in 2020. Soon after one video was taken in 2015, there was an immediate concern for the safety of the Naval aviators in the region. As a former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory, he was exceedingly intrigued, but the videos were classified, preventing any further inquiry. Since their declassification, Congress has steadily increased its attention to UAP, first directing a report from the Intelligence Community and now establishing a dedicated office in the Pentagon.
Taken together, these UAP videos and assessments indicate that capabilities exist beyond our current understanding of science, technology as well as engineering, and also indicate they originate from an agency unknown to us. Without presupposing an explanation for each, we can only conclude that a dedicated scientific study of these phenomena might reveal new knowledge about the universe, fundamental physics or both.
Given the magnitude of such a possibility, one has to ask, “why is there so little interest from the scientific community?” The simple answer is that the long-standing stigma associated with UFOs, combined with the significant risk aversion in mainstream science have made UAP study almost untouchable.
This is a problem, especially when considering that the great scientific leap-ahead made by those willing to go against the mainstream. An example from the field of oceanography was associated with the name of Dr. Robert Ballard. Known for finding the shipwreck of RMS Titanic, Ballard was widely regarded as a maverick and disdained as a “publicity hound” by career academics for his work with National Geographic. Notwithstanding, he made some of the most significant contributions to oceanography during his Ph.D. research in the late 1970s at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. His first-time observations of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’s spreading center and hydrothermal vents and black smokers off of the Galapagos Islands rewrote existing textbooks on geological, biological and chemical oceanography, respectively. While well studied today, none of these features were even imagined to exist in the decades prior to Ballard’s work.
Because the Department of Defense (DoD) UAP office is under the department’s intelligence arm, most or all of their findings will be classified and therefore unavailable to the public. That leaves it up the scientific community to fill our knowledge gap on UAP, but currently, the Galileo Project is the only research effort with a systematic scientific approach to increasing our understanding of these phenomena. When we consider that research in this area could generate a revolution in science, it is clear that more institutions should be involved.
Former White House science adviser and Oklahoma University Professor Kelvin Drogemeier has said that we are now in a second bold era of science and technology (referring to the first era after WWII where the U.S. government-funded the major advances of the time, such as space exploration, nuclear power and supercomputing). Today, we are seeing similar advances in artificial intelligence, quantum information science, renewable energy, environmental conservation and space travel _ the difference being that most of these are happening in the private sector and academia with philanthropic funding. With similar support, advancing our understanding UAP can be a crowning achievement of this new era in human history.
Rear Admiral (ret.) Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., is a research affiliate with the Galileo Project at Harvard University and former superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory. He previously served as the deputy administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and oceanographer of the Navy in the Pentagon. While serving as a 1-star commander under U.S. Fleet Forces Command in 2015, Gallaudet first saw one of the UAP videos later declassified by the Pentagon.
Avi Loeb is head of Harvard’s Galileo Project, a systematic scientific search for evidence of extraterrestrial technological artifacts. Loeb is the founding director of Harvard's Black Hole Initiative, the director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and he chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project. He is the author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth.”