Leave aliens out of the UFO story
The mysterious flying objects appeared in Washington, DC, on a hot and humid night in the summer of 1952. Air traffic controllers at the airport saw them first, then operators at neighboring Air Force bases followed suit – seven unexplained beeps on their radar screens. A nearby commercial pilot reported seeing bright lights in the dark. The Air Force sent fighter jets but found nothing. A week later it happened again. No more blips. No more jets. This time, an Air Force pilot even reported chasing a strange light before it escaped. The newspapers were everywhere on these sightings. “Jets Chase DC Sky Ghosts.” “Saucers abound over the capital.” âAerial Whatzits Buzz DC Again! “
Decades later, as America heads into yet another hot summer, unidentified flying objects are once again making headlines. Many more of us are involved in the story this time around, stuck together in the Internet control tower, watching grainy black and white US Navy videos claiming to show something inexplicable and trying to understand what we are seeing. But just like in 1952, some people switch from strange cloud skimming phenomena to aliens.
Videos are not new, but the footage has gained attention in recent weeks because a special Pentagon task force is expected to report to Congress on UFOs. The task force was created last year to help the Department of Defense better understand “the nature and origins” of unidentified aerial phenomena detected by US military planes. The report, released next month, is Assumed to reveal what intelligence agencies know about these UFOs and what threat the objects pose to national security.
It’s real; the videos are real; UFOs, in the most basic sense, are real. The military spotted objects flying in the sky, and he did not identify what they are. These objects, whatever name you give them, deserve careful consideration. But there is no reason to believe that they are foreigners.
Why not? Jason Wright, an astronomer at Penn State University, often asks himself this question, especially recently. Wright works in the area of ââSETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. His job is to look for signs of alien technology, so it seems logical that he could have some thoughts on UFOs and their rumors of alien origin. But ufology and SETI are two totally different fields.
SETI operates on the premise that aliens follow the laws of physics as we know them, but what makes these UFO videos so appealing is precisely the opposite – everything captured in them appears to move in a way that seems to defy these exact laws. Guided by known physics, SETI astronomers search for aliens deep in space, rather than in the clouds above their heads, because if the truth is out there, it is there- low, around stars several light years away. Even after decades of research, the SETI community has yet to find evidence of aliens, possibly for the same reason that alien beings, if they existed, would be unlikely to visit our planet – the space between them. stars, not to mention galaxies, is incredibly vast. . And astronomers are just starting to understand the planets around other stars. âEvery star could have an intelligent technological civilization like Earth and we wouldn’t know it,â Wright told me. He sees no problem with the desire to better understand our airspace and to investigate unexplained phenomena, “but why train astronomers in it?”
Maybe because the alternatives to aliens are much more boring. The topics of the most widely shared UFO videos are probably earthly originally. Many common objects can masquerade like something from another world: experimental planes, atmospheric whims, drones, balloons, even the planet Venus. Camera glitches and distortions can manifest something that is not really there. Consider these explanations, and the magic begins to wear off. UFOs become a national security story (could this unrecognizable technology belong to an opposing nation?). Or a story on relations with Washington (a government secret UFO program relied on a business run by a wealthy UFO believer, who donate to the United States Senator who helped establish this program). Or a media story (most reports quote the same group of UFO lobbyists over and over again). Even the next report is, at its core, a story of bureaucracy; the special working group is supposed standardize the government’s approach to cataloging and publishing reports on mystery encounters. âThe implication will be, ‘Oh my God, they were hiding something. I knew it!’ as if it meant “These things are aliens,” as opposed to “The military is secret, and now you know it was secret,” Wright said.
If we’re being honest, most of us would probably choose to savor the mystery of an inexplicable and unknowable technology rather than descend back to Earth. This sentiment is evident in recent media coverage, such as Adam Kehoe, software engineer and freelance writer, points out. In a New Yorker piece, Gideon Lewis-Kraus wrote that a discussion with a well-known UFO skeptic “left me with a vaguely demoralized feeling”, while his conversations with a well-known UFO activist were “very pleasant distractions which tended to absorb entire afternoons”. In an alien room curious for The New York Times, the writer Ezra Klein recognized that he appreciates “the space of mystery”.
I understand the attraction of mystery. In 2015, when astronomers announced that a distant Milky Way star was strangely twinkling, as if something nearby was picking up its light – perhaps a giant craft built by advanced beings to harness energy? That’s it …! Two years later, when the same astronomers concluded that the âalien megastructureâ was probably a heap of cosmic dust, I was secretly disappointed. Last year, another team picked up a radio signal from the star closest to the sun. The researchers warned that it was likely ground interference (and it was), but how beautiful could a different result have been? Or, given the year we had, how appropriate is that? At this point, an alien visit might seem like a believable plot. âCrowds ransacked the United States Capitol; millions of people have died from airborne disease in the 21st century, âsaid Michael Varnum, a psychology professor at Arizona State University who has studied how people might respond to the discovery of alien life. âThere might be something about going through a bunch of sci-fi events that might make people a little more open to sweeping possibilities that they might have previously ignored. “
Mankind can indeed discover compelling evidence of extraterrestrial existence in our lifetime, but it will most likely come in the form of microbes. Such a life could have existed on Mars, where a rover was sent to search for tiny dead beings in the rock, and could now exist under the icy surfaces of the moons Europe and Enceladus. Astronomers could even detect promising signs on worlds beyond our solar system, in the mixing of chemicals in a cloud of exoplanets so striking that something living must be responsible for their presence. These distant atmospheres are better places to look than ours. The results, in this case, will be less internet-worthy, less exciting – no grainy footage, just a bunch of wavy lines on a graph. “It’s a little complicated and distant,” says Katie Mack, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University who, like Wright, has been bombarded with questions about UFOs and aliens. “It doesn’t make us feel special and selected, and it doesn’t give us any immediate connection with other beings.”
This evidence will also have to meet a higher scientific standard than military imagery ever could, and will almost certainly be shared with greater transparency, as science demands. When Edward Ruppelt, an Air Force officer who worked on one of the Pentagon’s earliest efforts to understand sightings of strange objects in the sky, coined the term UFO 70 years ago he was already frustrated with the obfuscation of government. âPeople want to know the facts,â he wrote in a 1955 report. âBut more often than not these facts have been obscured by secrecy and confusion, a situation which has led to wild speculation on one side and to an almost dangerously jaded attitude of the other. ” Deciphering the latest UFO panic is hard enough. To paraphrase Wright, why drag aliens into it?