On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States released a long-awaited report on UFOs to Congress.
The US military has renamed unidentified flying objects as unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), in part to avoid the stigma attached to claims that aliens visit Earth since the Roswell incident in 1947. .
The report does not present convincing evidence that alien spacecraft have been detected, but some of the data defies easy interpretation.
I am an astronomy professor who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology .
I don’t think the new government report or any other UFO sighting in the past is proof that aliens visit Earth. But the report is important because it opens the door to a serious look at UFOs.
Specifically, it encourages the US government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt outside the bounds of mainstream science, but perhaps not anymore.
Three videos from the US military sparked a recent surge in interest in UFOs.
WHAT’S IN THE UFO REPORT?
What’s in the UFO report? The first thing the report focuses on is the lack of high-quality data. Here are the highlights of the slim, nine-page report, which covers a total of 144 sightings of UAP from US government sources between 2004 and 2021:
“Limited data and inconsistent reporting are key challenges in evaluating UAP.”
Some observations “could be the result of sensor errors, falsification, or observer misperception.”
“UAP clearly poses a flight safety issue and may pose a challenge to US national security.”
Of the 144 sightings, the task force was “able to identify a reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identify the object as a large deflated balloon. The others remain unexplained.
“Some UAPs may be technologies implemented by China, Russia, another nation, or non-governmental entity.”
Related topic: The UFO topic calls for an open scientific investigation
UFOS ARE TABOO AMONG SCIENTISTS
UFOs are taboo among scientists UFO stands for unidentified flying object. Nothing more and nothing less. You’d think scientists would enjoy the challenge of solving this puzzle. Instead, UFOs have been taboo for academic scientists to investigate, so inexplicable reports have not received the scrutiny they deserve.
One reason is that most scientists believe there is less (relevant stuff) in most reports than meets the eye , and the few who have investigated deeply have debunked the phenomenon . More than half of the sightings can be attributed to meteors, fireballs, and the planet Venus.
Another reason for scientific hesitation is that UFOs have been co-opted by popular culture. They are part of a conspiracy theory landscape that includes accounts of alien abductions and crop circles . Scientists worry about their professional reputations, and the association of UFOs with these supernatural stories causes most researchers to avoid the topic.
But some scientists have looked at it. In 1968, Edward U. Condom of the University of Colorado published the first major academic study on UFO sightings . The Condon Report put a damper on further research when it found that ” nothing has emerged from the study of UFOs in the last 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge.”
However, a 1998 review by a panel led by Peter Sturrock, professor of applied physics at Stanford University, concluded that some sightings are accompanied by physical evidence that warrants scientific study.
Sturrock also surveyed professional astronomers and found that nearly half thought UFOs were worthy of scientific study, with a greater interest among younger and better-informed astronomers.
If astronomers are intrigued by UFOs, and believe that some cases deserve rigorous academic study, what stops them?
A history of mistrust between ufologists and scientists has not helped. And while UFO research has employed some of the tools of the scientific method , it has not had the core of skeptical evidence-based reasoning that separates science from pseudoscience .
A search of 90,000 recent and current grants awarded by the National Science Foundation does not find any that address UFOs or related phenomena. I have served on review panels for 35 years and I can imagine my reaction if such a proposal came up for peer review: raised eyebrows and a quick vote for no funding.
A SEARCH FOR ALIENS THAT LASTED DECADES
A Decades-Lasting Search for Aliens While the scientific community has almost entirely avoided interacting with UFOs, a much more widespread search for intelligent aliens and their technology has been conducted for decades.
The search is motivated by the fact that astronomers have so far discovered more than 4,400 planets orbiting other stars . Some of those exoplanets are similar in mass to Earth and just the right distance from their stars to potentially have water on their surfaces, meaning they could be habitable.
Astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way alone, each representing a potential opportunity for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge. In fact, most astronomers think that humans are highly unlikely to be the only or the first advanced civilization .
This confidence has fueled an active search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. So far it has not been successful.
As a result, researchers have rephrased the question “Are we alone?” to “Where are the aliens?” The absence of evidence of intelligent aliens is called the Fermi paradox .
Expressed for the first time by the physicist Enrico Fermi, the paradox raises how it is possible that, if advanced civilizations were to be scattered throughout the galaxy, we would not have seen signs of their existence.
SETI activity has not been immune to criticism from scientists. It has been deprived of federal funding for decades and has recently obtained most of its support from private sources . However, in 2020, NASA resumed funding for SETI , and the new NASA administrator wants researchers to address the UFO issue .
In this context, the intelligence report is welcome. The report draws few concrete conclusions about UFOs and avoids any reference to aliens or alien spacecraft.
However, it highlights the importance of destigmatizing UFOs so that more pilots report what they see. It also sets the goal of moving from anecdotal observations to the collection of scientific and standardized data.
Time will tell if this is enough to attract scientists to the effort, but the transparency to publish the report reverses a long history of secrecy surrounding the US government reports on UFOs .
I don’t see any compelling evidence for alien spacecraft, but as a curious scientist, I hope the subset of UFO sightings that are truly unexplained is studied more closely. Scientists are unlikely to intervene if their skepticism sparks attacks by “true believers” or if they are ostracized by their colleagues. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there.
The Great Writer and The Passionate Poet As Well, He Graduated from University Of Florida in Journalism and Brad have around 12 years of experience in news and media section.