The U.S. government recently confirmed reports by military pilots of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), which are more commonly called unidentified flying objects (UFOs). The government also acknowledged the need to better understand UAP for the purpose of pilot safety and national security. There was no mention of aliens from other planets visiting Earth, but the possibility was not ruled out. For decades, the U.S. government has denied the existence of UFOs, making this a major step.
History of UFO Sightings
The first widely reported UFO sighting was made on June 24, 1947, by an amateur pilot named Kenneth Arnold, as The Atlantic explains. Mr. Arnold was flying from his home in Idaho to an air show in Oregon and took a detour to Mount Rainier, Washington.
Suddenly, Mr. Arnold saw a flash of bright blue-white light, followed by nine additional flashes in rapid succession. The lights were coming from nine “circular-type” objects moving in unison through the sky. Using the mountains as landmarks and the clock on his dashboard, Mr. Arnold estimated that the objects traveled a distance of 50 miles in 1 minute and 42 seconds before disappearing from view. This would be twice the speed of sound. Mr. Arnold was surprised, but thought the flying objects might be new military aircraft.
After arriving in Oregon, Mr. Arnold described the unidentified flying objects he had seen to a reporter. As an experienced pilot, respected businessman and family man, Mr. Arnold appeared to be a credible witness. The local newspaper published a brief article, which was picked up by The Associated Press and reported across the country. Some of the news outlets used the term “flying saucer,” which ignited the public’s imagination.
By the end of 1947 — just six months after Mr. Arnold’s UFO sighting — a total of 140 newspapers from across the United States and Canada had reported on 853 UFO sightings. Flying saucers would soon become ubiquitous in comic books, TV shows and movies.
The Military Denies all Evidence of UFOs
Just two weeks after Mr. Arnold’s UFO sighting, the Air Force felt compelled to issue a statement about the crash of a military weather balloon in Roswell, New Mexico. The incident had initially been reported as a possible “flying disk” crash. The Air Force explanation did not have the desired effect, and “Roswell” is still synonymous with UFOs and theories about government conspiracies to conceal evidence of extraterrestrial activity on Earth.
The Army did send officials to talk to Mr. Arnold, and they officially concluded that he had either seen a mirage or was hallucinating. Nonetheless, UFO sightings persisted. Given the possibility that UFOs might be sophisticated Soviet aircraft, the U.S. Air Force launched a UFO investigation called Project Blue Book in 1952. As Britannica explains, 12,000 reports of UFO sightings or related events were collected from 1952 to 1969. Only 6% could not be explained, and then only because of insufficient information. The project was shut down. For decades, the military would continue to deny any evidence of flying objects that could not be explained, which further emboldened conspiracy theorists.
The Military Acknowledges Existence of UAP
The document acknowledging the existence of UAP came from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in June 2021. It is a preliminary intelligence assessment of the threat posed by UAP and the progress made by the Department of Defense in understanding the threat.
The report focused on events that occurred between 2004 and 2021, with the majority occurring within the last two years. This increase is because a standardized UAP reporting system was first established by the Navy in 2019 and was fully adopted in 2020. The document uses the term “unidentified aerial phenomena” to remove the stigma associated with discussing UFOs.
The report focused on UAP witnessed firsthand by military pilots and those registered on aircraft sensors including radar, infrared, electro-optical and weapons seekers. These sensors can provide accurate information about relative size, shape, structure, velocity and range.
The Military Explanation for UAP
Of the 144 reports of UAP included in this UFO investigation, 80 involved multiple sensors. Most UAP appeared to be physical objects. One was identified with high confidence as a large, deflating balloon. The remaining 143 UAP remain unexplained.
All UAP incidents are expected to eventually be included in one of five categories:
- Airborne clutter (birds, balloons, recreational drones, plastic bags)
- Natural atmospheric phenomena (ice crystals, moisture, thermal fluctuations)
- USA or industry developmental programs (classified government programs)
- Foreign adversary systems (advanced aircraft by countries other than the USA that use breakthrough technology)
- Other (UAP without enough data to be identified and alien spacecraft)
In 18 reports, UAP exhibited unusual movement patterns and “appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernible means of propulsion.” These patterns could be due to sensor errors or observer misperception, but they could also be due to breakthrough technologies (from Earth) or aliens.
A Recent Increase in UFO Sightings?
The New York Times and other media outlets have reported that UFO sightings increased in 2020. This has largely been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and more people looking up at the night sky because they had nowhere to go.
The National UFO Reporting Center (founded in 1974) and the Mutual UFO Network (founded in 1969) are non-government agencies that collect information about and investigate UFO sightings. The vast majority of sightings can be attributed to satellites, meteors, the planet Venus, birds, bats, planes, drones and the light playing tricks on the eye or the camera lens. Serious UFO researchers know that humans are not adept at gauging the size, speed and distance of an object in the air, especially when there are no background objects for comparison.
A small percentage of UFO sightings remain unexplained, but that percentage does not change when more sightings are reported. Oftentimes, an increase in reports can be traced to UFO stories in the news — such as the ones covering the recently released government report on unidentified aerial phenomena.
The vast majority of unidentified flying objects are definitely not due to aliens. However, astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone — it isn’t unreasonable to look.
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