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World UFO Day: Are we really alone? The question is worthy of serious study

AMERICAN F/A-images of a UFO (circled in red). Credit: Parzival191919, CC BY-NC-SA

This article was originally published in The Conversation. The publication contributed the article Space.com’s Expert Voices: op-Ed

Are we alone? Unfortunately, none of the answers satisfying feeling. Only in this universe is a lonely prospect. On the other hand, if we are not alone and there is someone or something more powerful, that is terrifying.

As a NASA scientist and now a professor in the physics, I lived in 2002, the NASA Contact Conference, which is aimed at the serious speculation about extraterrestrials. During the meeting, a participant said loudly in a sinister tone, “You have absolutely no idea what it is!” The silence was palpable as the truth of this statement sunk in. People are afraid of the visits of aliens on Earth. Perhaps fortunately, the distances between the stars are very large. At least this is what we beginners, who are just learning to travel in the space, tell ourselves.

I’ve always been interested in Ufo’s. Of course, there is the excitement that there are aliens and other living worlds. But more exciting for me was the possibility that interstellar travel is technologically feasible. In 1988, during my second week of graduate school at Montana State University, a number of students and I were talking about a recent mutilation of cattle that was associated with Ufos. A physics professor joined the conversation and told us that he had colleagues who work at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, where they have problems with Ufos shutting down nuclear missiles. At the time I thought that this professor was talking nonsense. But 20 years later, I was stunned to see that a recording of a press conference with a number of former US air force personnel, with a few of Malmstrom AFB, describing similar events in the 1960s. It is clear that there must be something.

2 July, is World UFO Day, it is a good time for the society to the disturbing and refreshing fact we can not only. I believe that we must be confronted with the possibility that some of the strange flying objects that perform better than the best aircraft in our inventory, and the face of the statement may indeed be visitors from far – and there is enough scientific evidence that the UFO sightings.

The Fermi paradox

The nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi was famous for posing challenging questions. In 1950, at Los Alamos National Laboratory after about Ufo’s during the lunch, Fermi asked, “Where is everyone?” He estimated there were 300 billion stars in the milky way galaxy, many billions of years older than the sun, with a large percentage of them probably host habitable planets. Even if intelligent life developed on only a very small percentage of these planets, then there must be a number of intelligent civilisations in the milky way galaxy. Depending on the assumptions one should expect anywhere from a few dozen to tens of thousands of civilizations.

With the rocket-based technologies that we have developed for the aerospace industry, it would be between 5 and 50 million years for a civilization like ours to colonize our milky way Galaxy. Since this must have happened several times already in the history of our galaxy, one must wonder where is the evidence of these civilizations? This discrepancy between the expectation that there will be evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations or visitations, and the presumption that there will be no visitations have been observed has been dubbed the Fermi Paradox.

Carl Sagan correctly summarized the situation by saying that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The problem is that there are no well-documented UFO encounter that would only qualify as the smoking gun. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many governments around the world have passed classified information about these meetings. But there are enough scraps of evidence to suggest that the issue should be open for scientific research.

Ufos, a taboo for professional scientists

When it comes to science, the scientific method requires hypotheses to test, so that conclusions can be verified. UFO encounters are neither controllable nor repeatable, which makes their study very challenging. But the real problem, in my eyes, is that the UFO subject is taboo.

While the general public has been fascinated by Ufos for decades, our governments, scientists and the media, have mainly stated that all UFO sightings are the result of weather phenomenon or human act. No actual alien spacecraft. And no aliens have visited Earth. In essence, we are told that the topic is nonsense. Ufo’s are off-limits to serious scientific study and rational discussion, which, unfortunately, leaves the subject in the domain of fringe and pseudoscientists, many of whom litter the field with conspiracy theories and wild speculation.

I think that UFO skepticism has become something of a religion with an agenda, discounting the possibility of aliens without scientific evidence, while often delivering silly hypotheses describe only one or two aspects of a UFO encounter to strengthen the popular belief that there is a conspiracy. A scientist must take into account all of the possible hypotheses that a statement of all the data, and because little is known, the extraterrestrial hypothesis cannot yet be excluded. In the end, the sceptics often the science a disservice by providing a bad example of how science is to be conducted. The fact is that many of these encounters – which is still a very small percentage of the total – defy conventional explanation.

The media reinforces the scepticism by publishing information about Ufo’s at the exciting, but always with a sardonic or whimsical tone and the reassurance of the public that it is not true. But there are credible witnesses and encounters.

Why don’t astronomers see Ufo’s?

I am often asked by friends and colleagues, “Why don’t astronomers see Ufo’s?” The fact is that they do. In 1977, Peter Sturrock, a professor of space science and astrophysics at Stanford University, mailed 2,611 questionnaires about UFO sightings to the members of the American Astronomical Society. He received 1,356 responses of which 62 astronomers – 4.6 percent reported witnessing or recording unexplained aerial phenomena. This percentage is comparable with the approximately 5 percent of the UFO sightings that are never explained.

As expected, Sturrock found that astronomers who witnessed Ufos were more likely to night sky observers. More than 80 percent of Sturrock for the respondents who were willing to study the UFO phenomenon if there was a way to do this. More than half of them had the feeling that the subject deserves to be examined, compared with 20 percent who felt that it should not. The survey also revealed that young scientists are more likely to have the support of the study of Ufos.

Ufos have been observed by the telescopes. I know of a telescope observation by an experienced amateur astronomer, in which he observed an object in the shape of a guitar pick to move the telescope field of view. Further observations are described in the book “Wonders in the Sky’, in which the authors compile numerous sightings of inexplicable aerial phenomena made by astronomers and published in scientific journals in the years 1700 and 1800.

The evidence of the government and military officers

Some of the most convincing observations come from the government officials. In 1997, the Chilean government formed the organization Comité de Estudios de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos, or CEFAA, to the study of Ufos. Last year, CEFAA released footage of a UFO taken with a helicopter mounted Wescam infrared camera.

The countries Brazil, Canada, Denmark, germany, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom are declassifying their UFO files since 2008. The French Committee for in-Depth Studies, or COMETA, was a non-official UFO study group consisted of senior scientists and military officials studied Ufos in the late 1990s. They released the COMETA Report, which summarized their findings. They came to the conclusion that 5 percent of the encounters were reliable yet unexplained: The best hypothesis was that the observed craft were extraterrestrial. They also accused the United States with respect to the evidence of Ufos. Iran is concerned about the spherical Ufos observed in the vicinity of nuclear facilities, which they call “CIA drones”, which are allegedly about 30 metres in diameter, can reach speeds of up to Mach 10 and let the atmosphere. Such speeds are on par with the fastest experimental aircraft, but unthinkable for a sphere without lift surfaces or obvious propulsion mechanism.

In December 2017, The New York Times broke a story about the classified Advanced Aviation Threat Identification of the Program which was a $22 million program that a former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo focused on the study of Ufos. Elizondo resigns from the run of the program to protest against extreme secrecy and the lack of funding and support. After his resignation, Elizondo, together with a number of others of the defense intelligence community, were recruited by the For the Stars Academy of Arts & Science, which was recently formed by Tom DeLonge study of Ufos and interstellar travel. In conjunction with the launch of the academy, the Pentagon declassified and released three videos of UFO encounters, taken with forward-looking infrared cameras mounted on F-18 fighter aircraft. While there is much excitement about such a publication, I am reminded of a quote by Retired Army Colonel John Alexander: “the Disclosure has taken place. … I’ve got stacks of generals, including Soviet generals, who have come out and said that Ufos are real. My point is, how often do senior officials need to come forward and say that this is real?”

A subject worthy of serious study

There is much evidence that a small percentage of these UFO sightings are not identified, structured craft exhibit flight capabilities beyond any known human technology. Although there is no case for which there exists evidence that to scientific rigour, there are cases with simultaneous observations by multiple reliable witnesses, along with radar returns and photographic evidence revealing patterns of activity that are compelling.

Released information of secret studies is interesting, but not for scientific staff. This is a topic worthy of open scientific research, until there is a scientific consensus based on evidence rather than for the expectation or belief. If there is indeed an extraterrestrial craft visiting the Earth, it would greatly benefit to know about them, their nature and their intent. In addition, this would be a great opportunity for the mankind, promising to expand and the progress of our knowledge and technology, as well as the reform of our understanding of our place in the universe.

Kevin Knuth, Associate Professor of Physics, University at Albany, State University of New York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion on Facebook, Twitter and Google +. The views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Space.com.

 

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