- Congress held a public hearing on unidentified aerial phenomena, better known as UFOs, for the first time in 50 years.
- Some researchers say scientific instruments — not just the intelligence community — should study these objects.
- A growing number of private research groups focus on detecting unidentified flying objects.
Congress held a congress public hearing Tuesday on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, or UAPs — better known as Unidentified Flying Objects — for the first time in five decades.
The audience, held before a U.S. House Intelligence Subcommittee, included testimony from defense officials following a nine-page report released last year that investigated more than 140 cases of strange sightings by instruments and fighter pilots. Officials could only explain one of the incidents – a large deflated balloon.
Rep. Andre Carson, Democrat of Indiana and chairman of the subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing that UAPs “pose a potential threat to national security and should be treated as such”.
Unexplained objects have fascinated and intrigued people for decades, but their study has often been dismissed as pseudoscience or tabloid fodder. However, as these mysterious sightings return to the mainstream, some researchers say they need to be studied by scientists, not just the intelligence community, in order to find answers.
Last year’s report confirmed the existence of an unexplained aerial phenomenon, but raised more questions than answers, Jacob Haqq-Misra, a researcher at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, an organization in New York, told Insider. nonprofit that promotes space exploration.
Some scientific experts theorize that these mysterious objects could be anything from drones to weather phenomena, artifacts, sensor glitches – or even the work of aliens. But the report did not include enough data to make that decision definitively.
Since UAPs have long inspired conspiracy theories, researchers like Haqq-Misra believe the government should give scientists better access to data and allow investigations to take place in the open rather than behind closed doors.
Tuesday’s public hearing was followed by a closed session, which scientists like Haqq-Misra say will have the information they really want: “We really need transparency and new data if we want solve this problem,” he said.
The report included first-person accounts, which have the potential for human error. Haqq-Misra said UAPs should be studied with satellites, fast-tracking cameras or audio sensors at locations where unusual signals have been spotted: “What we need is to collect data in a systematic – look at all this sky in many places, for long periods of time and with many different instruments, and see how many things, if any, appear that you cannot identify.”
For decades, it was also a taboo subject for scientists and dismissed as pseudoscience. Government officials have even rebranded UFOs as unidentified aerial phenomena, in part to avoid the stigma attached to claims by extraterrestrial visitors. Researchers hope that a scientific search for answers and more transparency could help overcome this stigma, according to Ravi Kopparapu, planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“There is a process for understanding unknown phenomena,” Kopparapu told Insider. “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions one way or another, either about the dismissal or some exotic explanation.”
Kopparapu said there are a growing number of privately funded research groups focused on the systematic study of unidentified aerial phenomena, such as Harvard’s Galileo project and UAPx, a non-profit research organization. (The Galileo project is led by Avi Loeb, a important and controversial professor of astronomy, who has been critical to include declared supporters of UFOswithout scientific training, on the project.)
“I think this is a great opportunity for scientists to show the public how scientific investigation can be done into something unknown,” Kopparapu told Insider.
Nasa not actively seeking for UAPs, according to the agency’s website. “If we learn of the existence of UAPs, it would open the door to new scientific questions to explore,” according to NASA. “Atmospheric scientists, aerospace experts and other scientists could all contribute to understanding the nature of the phenomenon. Exploring the unknown in space is at the core of who we are.”
In the meantime, the Galileo project is designing software to filter data from large telescopes for interstellar objects and developing a network of sky cameras to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. This spring, the team plans to install the first of hundreds of cameras – which capture both infrared and visible light – and audio sensors on the roof of the Harvard College Observatory, to record everything that moves in the sky, 24 hours a day.
“We are moving away from a time when we just thought of them as some kind of tabloid news,” Kopparapu said, adding, “These objects exist. And if we want to understand them, we have to use the same technologies and scientific knowledge. instruments we use to study our everyday world around us.”
Sightings of unexplained objects in the sky have long captured the human imagination and raised questions about national security and even potential extraterrestrial life. But these questions will remain unanswered unless subjected to rigorous scientific investigation, say the researchers.
“I think it’s significant that branches of the military recognize that there’s something that’s supposed to be in their jurisdiction that they don’t understand,” Haqq-Misra told Insider. “If they’re willing to do that, I think it’s really, really a headache and we have to figure out what it is.”
Kopparapu seemed to agree: “Science should be at the forefront to understand this unknown phenomenon,” he said, adding, “I hope scientists take more interest and I look forward to see what will happen in the next two weeks with all this news.”