The report on UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) demanded by Congress has not yet officially been released, but there’s a story from The New York Times (and confirmed by NBC News) purporting to give away the plot.
The report is supposed to describe what the intelligence agencies know about incidents involving unknown craft.
The report is supposed to describe what the intelligence agencies know about incidents involving unknown craft. Among these are the objects seen in several provocative videos made from cameras mounted on Navy fighter jets. Are they enemy drones? Camera artifacts? Extraterrestrial spacecraft?
The sources quoted by the Times cut to the chase, saying straight out they’d found no evidence of alien spacecraft. Which isn’t quite the same as saying they could rule out that possibility. The report apparently hedges a lot, and the only thing it affirms is that the objects weren’t American-made craft, either military or civilian.
So technically, that leaves the door open. Maybe what’s visible in the videos are foreign drones, hypersonic weapons or some other high-tech hardware, a circumstance that should cause insomnia for Pentagon brass.
But for the rest of us, it’s the extraterrestrial angle that’s truly electric. For more than 70 years, the public has eagerly consumed descriptions of unknown objects tearing across the sky. The possibility that some of these UFOs (or UAPs if your nomenclature is a la mode) are extraterrestrial craft is an old idea. It’s also a surprisingly emotional topic, with opinion mostly split into two camps: those who are convinced aliens exist and have found Earth, and those who aren’t. The former may like the idea that they know something — the presence of aliens — that the “experts” (read: academia) won’t acknowledge. The critics think the proponents are naïve, and the evidence they offer is weak.
But after a lifetime of argument, one might reasonably ask if this movie will ever end? Will this question ever be definitively answered? UFO fans were hoping that this report would break the deadlock, that the government would finally disclose what it knows and vindicate their claims that Earth is being visited by extraterrestrial beings.
But according to the Times’ story, the intelligence report is noncommittal and ambiguous. So, it may simultaneously satisfy everyone and no one. Skeptic academics can continue to scoff at the alien visitation idea, and the UFO believers can continue to cry cover-up. Everyone will retreat to their neutral corners and hope for a knockout in the next round.
However, if you’re inclined to believe that Earth really is hosting visitors, you might give some thought to a troubling question: Why are the aliens here now? The Earth has been around for more than 4 billion years; Homo sapiens have existed for around 300,000 years. How, then, do you account for the fact that the aliens have chosen to arrive just at the epoch when they could tease the Navy’s fighter pilots?
It’s an unlikely coincidence. So, it’s tempting to invent an explanation. Perhaps the aliens have become disgusted with our nuclear saber-rattling. Or maybe they’re offended by our general indifference to environmental degradation.
But such arguments, nice as they sound, are suspiciously self-centered. (Do the aliens really care about our bad behavior?) In addition, only the very nearest star systems have been exposed to our nightly news broadcasts. The aliens — whether indifferent or otherwise — don’t yet know of our shortcomings.
And while it might sound ungrateful, I would point out that even if these problems have prompted a social call, the extraterrestrials have done precious little to help us out.
The official report on these strange aerial acrobatics has not yet arrived. Those who are unhappy with the conclusions described this week can take solace in the fact that this story is not over. And despite the fervent hopes of many, I’m not sure it ever will be.
Dr. Seth Shostak is senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and the host of the “Big Picture Science” podcast.