Taken literally, the label ‘unidentified flying object’, or UFO, is supposed to connote only what it exactly means, an airborne craft that observers are unable to identify or define. But ever since the term was first used by US intelligence officials, it has served as a shorthand for theories about alien visitors to Earth. But the wait for conclusive proof about any ‘little green men’ or extraterrestrial guests just got longer as a US report has found that alien activity was not linked to specific UFO sightings that were investigated by intelligence officials. But the report may not do much to deter conspiracy theorists as it “does not confirm or rule out alien activity".
What Are UFOs?
While they have been reported in many shapes and sizes, experts say that “90-95% of all UFO sightings can be explained as weather balloons, flares, sky lanterns, planes flying in formation, secret military aircraft, birds reflecting the sun, planes reflecting the sun, blimps, helicopters".
Not only that, Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine, who was quoted by the Associated Press news agency, adds that “the planets Venus or Mars, meteors or meteorite space junk, satellites, swamp gas… ball lightning, ice crystals reflecting light off clouds, lights on the ground or lights reflected on a cockpit window, temperature inversions, punch clouds" can all be mistaken as flying objects of mysterious provenance.
But a simple explanation may rarely seem attractive when a complicated one lurks on the margins of the known. Especially when some of the objects sighted by US military pilots have been reported to move and act in ways no flying machine known to mankind does.
A recent report by US broadcaster CBS cited US Navy pilots who described seeing objects that “had no visible exhaust plumes and were travelling at speeds that appeared to defy the limits of known technology". A former US counter-intelligence officer was reported as saying last month that some of these objects “can outperform anything that we have in our inventory".
But as some UFO theory critics point out, if modern photography and video gadgets are so advanced with even smartphones now capable of capturing high-resolution images, why is most UFO footage grainy and indistinct? That is why they suggest one should wait for a clear image or photo to emrge before making up their minds about aliens or UFOs.
What Is The Report?
The findings that have reignited the conversation on aliens are from a classified US government investigation into unidentified aerial phenomena (another term for UFO) that has not been made public. But some US media outlets have reported on its content based on conversations with government officials who remained anonymous as they were not authorised to comment to the media about the findings.
The report follows an investigation conducted by a military task force set up last year to go into the topic of unexplained flying objects in US airspace. The US Department of Defense said it wanted to “improve its understanding" of such unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) with a key aim being to study whether they posed a threat to national security.
Under review were more than 120 reports of UFO sightings by mainly US Navy personnel over the last two decades. An unclassified version of the report is to be laid before US lawmakers on June 25.
So, What Did The Report Find?
When US lawmakers asked the director of national intelligence last year to provide “a detailed analysis of unidentified aerial phenomena data”, it was not so much to get to the bottom of alien conspiracy theories but to ascertain whether officials had determined “any incidents or patterns that indicate a potential adversary may have achieved breakthrough aerospace capabilities that could put US strategic or conventional forces at risk".
Simply put then, the main focus is on finding out whether these unexplained flying objects are advanced machines devised by enemy powers. In the era of drones and advanced fighter jets, it may be no surprise if governments are found to be working on highly classified projects to develop technology that is not known to the wider world.
But the New York Times says that about the only thing the report rules out is the involvement of any US aircraft or programme behind these sightings. The US daily adds that intelligence officials are of the view that some of the mysterious objects could be experimental machines created by the likes of Russia or China. It is reported that both these countries have been working on advanced hypersonic weapons.
Along with the possible role of other countries, the report also keeps open the alien involvement angle. The NYT says that while the report holds that there is “no evidence that aerial phenomena witnessed by Navy pilots in recent years were alien spacecraft", it does acknowledge the fact that much of the “observed phenomena remains difficult to explain, including their acceleration, as well as ability to change direction and submerge".
It is understood that the report that is to be shared with US lawmakers will have more details to offer while also including a classified section. So, the NYT says that while the unexplained phenomena remain unexplained, the existence of classified data is likely to keep speculation alive about alien visitors.