The US defense and intelligence community is taking unidentified flying objects seriously, officially known as unidentified aerial phenomena. And some researchers believe the scientific community should do the same.
On May 17, the US Congress held its first public hearing about these items in decades (SN: 6/26/71) Two Pentagon officials described efforts to catalog and analyze unexplained incidents observed by military personnel such as pilots as a potential threat to national security.
Scott Bray, Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence, shared new details on a database of images and videos that now includes nearly 400 reports of sightings of unknown incidents from 2004 to 2021. Whereas the officers were able to give certain scenes the artifacts of something special. There were censors or other mundane explanations, other officials who “couldn’t explain,” Bray said.
Bray stressed that nothing in the database or studied by a task force set up to investigate the sighting “would suggest that it is basically anything non-terrestrial.”
Both Bray and Ronald Moultrie, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, identified “insufficient data” as a barrier to understanding the unknown events. “This is one of the challenges we face,” Moultrie said.
This is something other scientists can help with, say astrobiologists Jacob Haque Mishra and Ravi Kopparapu.
science news To learn more about the how and why, we spoke with Haq Mishra of the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle and Kopparapu of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. Their answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are unknown aerial phenomena?
Haq Mishra: “What are they” is a billion dollar question. We don’t know what they are, and that’s what makes them interesting.
Unidentified aerial incident, or UAP, is a term used by the military. It differs slightly from the term UFO in the sense that an event can be something that is not necessarily a physical solid object. So UAP is probably a more broad term.
Should we study them scientifically? Why?
Kopparapu: Yes. We do scientific study of unknown phenomena all the time. It should be no different. The most important thing to remember is that when conducting those studies, we should not let our speculations lead to conclusions. Collected data should do this.
Haq Mishra: As scientists, what we must do is study things we don’t understand.
With UAPs, there seem to be some odd observations that are difficult to explain. Maybe they’re signs of something like new physics, or maybe it’s just instrumental artifacts we don’t understand or things birds are doing.
It could be anything, but any of those possibilities, anything from the most extreme to the most mundane, will teach us something.
So there is scientific curiosity. And it’s also about safety for pilots, especially if there’s something in the sky that pilots are seeing that they consider a flight safety risk.
How can we study these phenomena?
Haq Mishra: The problem with studying UAPs so far is that all the data is with the government. From the hearing, there appears to be a plan to make some of the data public, once it has been scrutinized for potential security risks, but I’m not holding my breath for it to happen anytime soon. Nice to hear though.
The reality is that if you want to understand a particular set of data, you need to know something about the device that collects the data. Military equipment is probably classified for good reason to protect us. I think we’re not going to get the kind of data from the government that we need to scientifically answer the question. Even if you had that data from the government or commercial pilots or others, it hasn’t been intentionally collected. These are accidental, sporadic observations.
So you would need to set up a network of detectors around the world. Ideally, you would have ground-based sensors and you would have satellite coverage. It is not enough for someone just to see something. You need to measure a detection with multiple sensors and multiple wavelengths.
Kopparapu: Some of these are momentary events. For example, we need fast-tracking cameras and optical, infrared and radar observations to collect more data to find patterns in the behavior of events.
And we need to share such data with scientists so that independent groups can reach consensus. This is how science progresses. There is some initiative on the part of academicians in this direction, which is a good sign.
What are some possible next steps for the scientific community to study them?
Haq Mishra: There are some groups that are trying to build detectors now. Fundraising is the hardest part. [The nonprofit] UAPx is one, and the Galileo Project [at Harvard University] The second one is.
And it was underlined at the hearing, but stigma has been a major problem. It seems that the army is not only trying to streamline the reporting process but is also defaming it. It is also important for science. If he starts making more changes to the culture, it will go a long way.
Kopparapu: I think the scientific study of UAP should not be tarnished. There should be open discussions, comments and constructive criticisms that can help advance the study of the UAP.
There should be a discussion on how and what type of equipment is needed to collect the data. The focus should be on collecting and sharing data and Then comment on the topic.
How did you become interested in this topic?
Kopparapu: Over the years, I read many articles either rejecting or advocating for a specific clarification regarding UAP. Then I started researching it, and I found physicist James McDonald’s “Science in Default” report from 1969. A special report about UFOs changed my perspective. It was written the same way we write our scientific articles. This resonated with me as a scientist, and I began to think that examining science was the only way we could understand UAP.
Haq Mishra: I got interested in this topic because I am an astrobiologist and other people asked me about UFOs. UFOs are not necessarily an astrobiology topic, because we don’t know what they are. But many people think they are supernatural. And I felt a little silly, being an astrologer and had nothing to say.
So I went to Carl Sagan’s files, and I realized that even though he lived decades before me, his files contain things we’re talking about now, related to air anomalies observed by pilots. Huh.
Eventually, I realized for a scientist who wants to understand what’s going on with this UFO thing, there’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of public discussion about crop circles, alien abductions, and paranormal stories muddying the waters, among other topics, and the more we can be clear about specific air anomalies, the more we can really solve the problem. Huh .
The opinions of researchers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of their employers.