If you have an interest in UFOs (unidentified flying objects, for the uninitiated) and have always wondered what exactly the U.S. government and intelligence know about them, June can be a great month for you.
The Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAP), a group within the U.S. Department of Defense, will submit an unclassified report to Congress this month on the knowledge Pentagon officials have gathered about the APAs and how they are handling the data they have managed to collect.
UAP is the term that military and researchers who do not want to be associated with the expression “UFOs” use when talking about objects in the sky flying without any visible form of propulsion, in patterns that challenge our knowledge of physics. So yes: the U.S. Department of Defense will tell U.S. representatives and senators what they’ve learned about unidentified flying objects in U.S. airspace.
And the public will hear it all (though there could be a delay between the presentation in Congress and the release of the full report). There are no silent conversations about secret military sites, which conspiracy theorists are sure have been taking place since a UFO allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in the summer of 1947, but a simple report.
“Documented evidence collected by the military”
Avi Loeb, a professor of science at Harvard University and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told DW what makes this such a momentous occasion.
“This new report is different from previous discussions about UFOs or UAP, in that it includes documented evidence collected by military personnel based on detection by multiple instruments (radar, infrared cameras, optical cameras),” Loeb wrote in an email.
The information presented in the report is likely to indicate “the possible existence of objects that behave in ways that cannot be explained by the technologies we possess.”
Roswell, New Mexico, has become a mecca for UFO enthusiasts after aliens supposedly crashed there in 1947
95% of cases have a mundane explanation
A 2019 Gallup poll showed that one-third of American adults believed that at least in some cases UFO sightings involved real alien spacecraft.
Hans-Werner Peiniger became interested in UFOs when he was 15 and has researched them for nearly half a century. The director of the Society for UFO Phenomenon Research (GEP) in Germany says that the overwhelming majority of sightings, however, have natural or artificial explanations.
“Since 1972, we have investigated approximately 4,500 sightings” reported to the GEP by witnesses, Peiniger told DW. “For only about 5% we couldn’t find an understandable explanation,” he reveals.
The rest, Peiniger continues, are often helium balloons like those seen at fairs, insects in flight that can look like a flying saucer in photos, weather phenomena or satellites. And the other 5%? “Maybe they’re natural phenomena that we just can’t explain yet,” he says.
Why is the report coming in right now?
It’s no coincidence that members of Congress get more information about the UAP this month. A detailed report from the task force was a requirement in the $2,300 million (€1,800 million) spending package that Congress approved in December 2020.
Within six months, the legislation stipulates, the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence would have to submit a “detailed analysis of data and intelligence of unidentified aerial phenomena.”
Democrats and Republicans calling for a report on unidentified flying objects, a topic that until not long ago was confined to the realm of sci-fi movie fans, conspiracy theorists and alien enthusiasts, show that the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence is far less absurd for high-level U.S. officials now than it used to be.
The move came at the end of a year with several significant developments on UAPs. In April 2020, the Department of Defense officially posted three videos taken by Navy pilots that had been leaked years earlier. The recordings showed objects buzzing through the sky in a way strange enough to attract the pilots’ attention.
The Defense Department confirmed the authenticity of the videos years after UFO enthusiasts had already analyzed every last second of the images online “to clear up any public misconceptions about whether the images that have been circulating were real or if there was something beyond the videos.” , according to a Pentagon press release. “The aerial phenomena observed in the videos continue to be characterized as ‘unidentified.’
SpaceX satellites, such as those sent into space in this 2017 image, are often mistaken for UFOs, peiniger says
There is no common ground between the reported UFOs
Less than four months later, the task force was formed and now its researchers will present their findings to Congress. Loeb, who earlier this year published the book Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, says it’s not enough for the Navy to republish old videos and that officials should actively seek evidence now.
“Instead of declassizing documents that reflect ancient technologies used by witnesses with no scientific experience, it would be much better to deploy state-of-the-art recording devices to the sites where the reports come from and look for unusual signals,” the Harvard professor told DW in his email.
For his part, Peiniger says that after the many cases he has investigated he is very skeptical that any UAP sighting is an alien spaceship.
“If there really was extraterrestrial intelligence that came to visit us, there should be some things that their UFOs had in common,” he explains, the shape of the supposed spacecraft or the flight patterns, for example. “But we don’t find any of that in the cases we investigate,” he adds.
“I don’t want to rule it out completely,” Peiniger said, “but I guess we’re not currently being visited by aliens.”