News & Politics

Mark Your Calendar: Pentagon May Release Seminal Report on UFOs Next Week

(U.S. Navy footage)

The Pentagon may release its long-anticipated report on unidentified aerial phenomenon — commonly referred to as UFOs — as early as next Tuesday.

The report was mandated by Donald Trump and contained funding for the report in the December stimulus bill. The mandate gave the government 180 days to develop a report on everything it knows about the UFO phenomenon.

As the date approaches, more and more sightings are being reported or being leaked — or, we’re paying closer attention to what has become a routine occurrence for the U.S. military. One recent 60 Minutes broadcast featured a naval aviator who thinks that whatever the craft are, they are a threat. Navy Lt. Ryan Graves said on the program that his squadron, based near the coast of Virginia, has seen the UFOs every day since 2014.

“I am worried, frankly… I​f these were tactical jets from another country that were hanging out up there, it would be a massive issue,” Graves said. “But because it looks slightly different, we’re not willing to actually look at the problem in the face. We’re happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there, watching us every day.”

They haven’t fired at us yet or made any overtly hostile moves, although near-misses with Navy ships are not unknown.

Everybody agrees there’s something up there, probably solid and not an optical illusion. But making the leap from declaring the UFOs are “real” to claiming an extraterrestrial origin for them would be unscientific, which is why the report will not declare them to be extraterrestrial.

University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank penned an op-ed in the New York Times scoffing at the notion of alien visitation. Frank claims he is looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe but doesn’t think we’ve found it yet. “There are excellent reasons to search for extraterrestrial life,” he argues, “but there are equally excellent reasons not to conclude that we have found evidence of it with UFO sightings.”

Let’s start with the Navy cases. Some of the pilots have told of seeing flying objects shaped like Tic Tacs or other unusual forms. The recordings from the planes’ cameras show amorphous shapes moving in surprising ways, including appearing to skim the ocean’s surface and then disappear beneath it. This might appear to be evidence of extraterrestrial technology that can defy the laws of physics as we understand them — but in reality it doesn’t amount to much.

For one thing, first-person accounts, which are notoriously inaccurate to begin with, don’t provide enough information for an empirical investigation. Scientists can’t accurately gauge distances or velocity from a pilot’s testimony: “It looked close” or “It was moving really fast” is too vague. What a scientist needs are precise measurements from multiple viewpoints provided by devices that register various wavelengths (visible, infrared, radar). That kind of data might tell us if an object’s motion required engines or materials that we Earthlings don’t possess.

The cameras on fighter jets that captured these UFOs are thermal imaging cameras, so the images are grainy and difficult to interpret. And simply saying that no aircraft made by humans could achieve those speeds or maneuver so quickly is just not good enough. There may be other explanations for the images that have nothing to do with alien technology.

The Pentagon report will disappoint some, but probably contain enough mysteries to have alien hunters hard at work explaining them.