Why Some Scientists Want Serious UFO Research
The U.S. defense and intelligence communities take unidentified flying objects, officially known as Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, seriously. And some researchers think the scientific community should too.
On May 17, the US Congress held its first public hearing on these objects in decades (SN: 06/26/71). Two Pentagon officials described efforts to catalog and analyze sightings, many by military personnel such as pilots, of unexplained phenomena because of their potential threat to national security.
Scott Bray, the deputy director of naval intelligence, shared new details about an image and video database that now includes approximately 400 reports of sightings of unidentified phenomena from 2004 to 2021. While officials were able to attribute some of the sightings to artifacts from certain sensors or other mundane explanations, there were others that officials “cannot explain,” Bray said.
Bray stressed that nothing in the database or studied by a task force set up to investigate the sightings “would suggest it was anything of non-terrestrial origin.”
Both Bray and Ronald Moultrie, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, identified “insufficient data” as a barrier to understanding what unidentified phenomena are. “That’s one of the challenges we have,” Moultrie said.
That’s something other scientists can help with, say astrobiologists Jacob Haqq Misra and Ravi Kopparapu.
Scientific news spoke with Haqq Misra, of the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle, and Kopparapu, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to learn more about how and why. Their responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are Unidentified Aerial Phenomena?
Haqq Misra: “What are they” is the billion dollar question. We don’t know what they are, and that’s what makes them interesting.
Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAP, is the term the military uses. It’s a bit different from the term UFO in that a phenomenon could be something that isn’t necessarily a solid physical object. So UAP is perhaps a more global term.
Should we study them scientifically? Why?
Koparapu: Yes. We are constantly conducting scientific studies on unknown phenomena. It shouldn’t be any different. The most critical point to remember is that when conducting these studies, we must not let our speculations dictate the conclusions. The data collected should do that.
Haqq Misra: As scientists, what we should be doing is studying things that we don’t understand.
With UAP, there seem to be anomalous observations that are difficult to explain. Maybe they’re a sign of something like new physics, or maybe they’re just instrumental artifacts we don’t understand or things birds do.
It could be anything, but any of these possibilities, from the most extreme to the most mundane, would tell us something.
So there is scientific curiosity. And it’s also a matter of safety for the pilots, especially if there’s something in the sky that the pilots see that they consider a risk to flight safety.
How to study these phenomena?
Haqq Misra: The problem with the UAP study so far is that all the data is held by the government. From the hearing, there appears to be a plan to declassify some data, once it’s been vetted for possible security risks, but I’m not holding my breath for that to happen soon. It was nice to hear, though.
The reality is that if you want to understand a particular set of data, you have to know something about the instrument that collected the data. Military instruments are probably classified for a reason, for our safety. I don’t think we’re going to get the kind of data from the government that we need to scientifically answer the question. Even if you had this data, from government or commercial pilots or otherwise, it was not intentionally collected. These are incidental and sporadic observations.
So you would need to set up a network of detectors all over the world. Ideally you would have sensors on the ground and you would have satellite coverage. It’s not enough for someone to see something. You need to measure a detection with multiple sensors and multiple wavelengths.
Koparapu: Some of them are transient events. We need, for example, fast-tracking cameras and optical, infrared and radar observations to collect more data to find patterns in event behaviors.
And we need to share that data with scientists so that independent groups can come to a consensus. This is how science progresses. There are academic initiatives in this direction, so it’s a good sign.
What are the possible next steps for the scientific community to study them?
Haqq Misra: There are groups trying to build detectors now. Fundraising is the hardest part. [The nonprofit] UAPx is one of them, and the Galileo project [at Harvard University] is another.
And it was pointed out in the hearing, but the stigma was a big issue. It seems the military is trying not only to streamline the reporting process, but also to de-stigmatize it. It’s important for science too. If it starts to change more in the culture, it would go a long way.
Koparapu: I think the scientific study of UAP should not be stigmatized. There should be open discussions, comments and constructive criticism that can help deepen the study of the NAP.
There should be discussions on how and what types of instruments are needed to collect data. Emphasis should be placed on collecting and sharing data and so commenting on the subject.
How did you become interested in this subject?
Koparapu: Over the past few years, I have read several articles rejecting or advocating a particular explanation regarding UAP. Then I started digging into it, and I found physicist James McDonald’s “Science in Default” report from 1969. That particular UFO report changed my perspective. It was written the same way we write our scientific papers. This resonated with me as a scientist, and I began to believe that scientific investigation is the only way to understand UAP.
Haqq Misra: I became interested in this subject because I am an astrobiologist and other people have asked me about UFOs. UFOs are not necessarily a subject of astrobiology, because we don’t know what they are. But many people think they are aliens. And I felt a bit silly, being an astrobiologist and having nothing to say.
So I went into Carl Sagan’s files, and I realized that even though he lived decades before me, there are things in his files that we’re talking about now that are related to airborne anomalies seen by pilots.
Ultimately, I realized that for a scientist who wants to figure out what’s going on with this UFO thing, there’s a lot of noise to sift through. There’s a lot of public talk about other topics like crop circles, alien abductions, and paranormal stories that muddy the waters, and the clearer we can be about the specific aerial anomalies we’re talking about, the more we can actually solve the problem. problem .
The opinions of researchers are their own and do not necessarily represent those of their employers.