Searches for alien civilizations often involve listening for radio transmissions from distant stars, but the possible extraterrestrial origins of UFOs have some scientists looking closer to home. Credit: Luc Novovitch/Alamy Stock Photo
Topics: Astrophysics, NASA, SETI
I was startled, to say the least, that this story appears in Scientific American, and that NASA and theoretical astrophysicist Avi Loeb is interested in it. The nut job “giggle factor” has given way to curiosity about things humans cannot explain, and that bothers us as a species.
My concern is if the question “are we alone?” has the answer “we are not,” the next question is “why Earth?” What if the answer is “because we’re someone’s territory,” and they regard Homo Sapiens (the only race we truly are) as a bipedal herd? That gives for the pilots of UAPs (if any found) humanity the same regard as we give a frog on a dissecting table.
On June 9, with only a few hours’ notice, NASA held a press conference to announce a study it was commissioning on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs). The acronym is a rebranding of what is more popularly known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, a topic usually associated with purported extraterrestrial visitations and government conspiracy theories. The question on the public’s mind was why one of the U.S.’s premier scientific agencies was getting involved in something often considered to be at the farthest fringes of respectability.
Yet the pronouncement also fit in with the suddenly more open-minded zeitgeist regarding UAPs. Last year saw the publication of a much-anticipated report on the Department of Defense’s own investigations into the subject, following the release of first-person accounts and video from U.S. fighter pilots claiming to show encounters with strange objects in the skies. High-profile coverage in mainstream media and open congressional hearings about UAPs have kept the matter circulating in the public realm. A month after the Pentagon’s report came out, theoretical astrophysicist Avi Loeb, former chair of Harvard University’s astronomy department, announced a private initiative called the Galileo Project, which is aimed at searching for potential evidence of alien technology here on Earth.
What NASA can bring to this discussion is as yet unclear. The agency has set aside a slim $100,000 for the nine-month study—less than the typical funding it provides for exploratory studies of unconventional technologies such as space telescopes with kilometer-scale mirrors or interstellar probes propelled by giant laser beams. Helmed by the well-respected Princeton University astrophysicist David Spergel, the investigation intends to identify existing and future data sets scientists could use to advance their understanding of UAPs. Even if it uncovers little of interest, the study’s existence suggests that something the agency once avoided talking about at all costs is on the cusp of becoming an appropriate topic of inquiry.
With New Study, NASA Seeks the Science behind UFOs, Adam Mann, Scientific American