Why Are We All Talking About U.F.O.s Right Now?
U.F.O.s were once a taboo topic for the U.S. government, but not anymore. A long anticipated report was released.
When spooky things appear in the sky, witnesses have often been reluctant to report them for fear of mockery by others, especially in the halls of government.
These days, fewer people are laughing.
Unidentified flying objects, or unidentified aerial phenomena as the government calls them, have been taken more seriously by U.S. officials in recent years, starting in 2007 with a small, secretly funded program that investigated reports of military encounters.
The program, whose existence was first reported by The New York Times in December 2017, was revived by the Defense Department last summer as the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.
The department said the task force’s mission was to “detect, analyze and catalog” sightings of strange objects in the sky “that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security.” Service members were newly encouraged to speak up if they saw something, with the idea being that removing the stigma behind reporting something weird would provide the authorities with a better idea of what’s out there.
Then, late last year, President Donald J. Trump signed a $2.3 trillion appropriations package that included a provision inserted by lawmakers: They asked the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence to submit an unclassified report on what the government knows about U.F.O.s.
An unclassified version of that report was released on June 25. (The report said the government still has no explanation for nearly all of the scores of unidentified aerial phenomena reported over almost two decades and investigated by the Pentagon task force.)
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A drumbeat of U.F.O. attention
With the public asking more questions about U.F.O.s, more officials appear willing to answer them.
“There are a lot more sightings than have been made public,” John Ratcliffe, the former director of national intelligence, told Fox News in March. Quite a few of them, he said, “are difficult to explain.”
John Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., said on a podcast last year that some of the unexplained sightings might be “some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.”
The lead-up to the report’s release has seen quite a bit of mainstream media attention in recent weeks, including a 13,000-word article in The New Yorker in April, and a segment on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Kenneth Arnold, shown in 1966, reported seeing nine circular objects near Mount Rainier in 1947. Descriptions of the objects injected the phrase “flying saucers” into the popular imagination.Credit…U.S Department of Defense
The first thing to know is that “U.F.O.” doesn’t automatically mean “alien.” As its name indicates, U.F.O. refers to any aerial phenomenon with no immediate explanation. Though reported sightings take place frequently around the world, a vast majority of them turn out to be things like stars, satellites, planes, drones, weather balloons, birds or bats.
The modern history of U.F.O. sightings is generally considered to have started on June 24, 1947, when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from Idaho, reported seeing nine circular objects traveling at supersonic speeds near Mount Rainier. Newspapers described them as “flying saucers,” a term that captured the popular imagination. Though Mr. Arnold appeared to be a credible witness, government officials were skeptical.
Nonetheless, the government began a classified study, called Project Sign, out of concern that such objects could be advanced Soviet weapons. That was followed by Project Blue Book, which reviewed about 12,000 cases from 1952 to 1969, 701 of which could not be explained. It ended with a report saying U.F.O.s were not worth further study. As far as is publicly known, there were no more official government efforts to study U.F.O.s until the one established in 2007,
Sightings of unidentified objects in the United States have risen during the coronavirus pandemic, as people spending long days at home turned to sky gazing. Reports increased about 15 percent last year to more than 7,200, according to the National U.F.O. Reporting Center. As in other years, almost all of them had earthly explanations, the center said.
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