On June 25, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress. The report presents no convincing evidence that alien spacecraft have been spotted, but some of the data defy easy interpretation.
I do not believe that the new US government report or any other sightings of UFOs in the past are proof of aliens visiting Earth. But the report is important because it opens the door for a serious look at UFOs.
Specifically, it encourages the US government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt off limits to mainstream science, but perhaps no more. Three videos from the US military sparked a recent surge in interest in UFOs.
What’s in the UFO report?
The US military has rebranded unidentified flying objects as unidentified aerial phenomena – UAP – in part to avoid the stigma that has been attached to claims of aliens visiting the Earth since the Roswell incident in 1947.
The No 1 thing the report focuses on is the lack of high-quality data. Here are the highlights from the slender nine-page report, covering a total of 144 UAP sightings from US government sources between 2004 and 2021:
- “Limited data and inconsistent reporting are key challenges to evaluating UAP.”
- Some observations “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception.”
- “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to US national security.”
- Of the 144 sightings, the task force was “able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained.”
- “Some UAP many be technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or non-governmental entity.”
UFOs are taboo among scientists
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less. You’d think scientists would enjoy the challenge of solving this puzzle. Instead, UFOs have been taboo for academic scientists to investigate, and so unexplained reports have not received the scrutiny they deserve.
One reason is that most scientists think there is less to most reports than meets the eye, and the few who have dug deeply have mostly debunked the phenomenon. More than half of sightings can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus.
Another reason for the scientific hesitance is that UFOs have been co-opted by popular culture. They are part of a landscape of conspiracy theories that includes accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles. Scientists worry about their professional reputations, and the association of UFOs with these supernatural stories causes most researchers to avoid the topic.
But some scientists have looked. In 1968, Edward U Condon at the University of Colorado published the first major academic study of UFO sightings. The Condon Report put a damper on further research when it found that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge.”
However, a review in 1998 by a panel led by Peter Sturrock, a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, concluded that some sightings are accompanied by physical evidence that deserves scientific study. Sturrock also surveyed professional astronomers and found that nearly half thought UFOs were worthy of scientific study, with higher interest among younger and more well-informed astronomers.
If astronomers are intrigued by UFOs – and believe some cases deserve study with academic rigor – what’s holding them back? A history of mistrust between ufologists and scientists hasn’t helped. And while UFO research has employed some of the tools of the scientific method, it has not had the core of skeptical, evidence-based reasoning that demarcates science from pseudoscience.
A search of 90,000 recent and current grants awarded by the National Science Foundation finds none addressing UFOs or related phenomena. I’ve served on review panels for 35 years, and can imagine the reaction if such a proposal came up for peer review: raised eyebrows and a quick vote not to fund.
A decades-long search for aliens
While the scientific community has almost entirely avoided engaging with UFOs, a much more mainstream search for intelligent aliens and their technology has been going on for decades.
The search is motivated by the fact that astronomers have, to date, discovered more than 4,400 planets orbiting other stars. Called exoplanets, some are close to the Earth’s mass and at just the right distance from their stars to potentially have water on their surfaces – meaning they might be habitable.
Astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each one is a potential opportunity for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge. Indeed, most astronomers think it very unlikely that humans are the only or the first advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. It has been unsuccessful so far. As a result, researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?” to “Where are the aliens?”
The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi paradox. First articulated by the physicist Enrico Fermi, it’s a paradox because advanced civilizations should be spread throughout the galaxy, yet we see no sign of their existence.
The SETI activity has not been immune from scientists’ criticism. It was starved of US government funding for decades and recently has gotten most of its support from private sources. However, in 2020, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration resumed funding for SETI, and the new NASA administrator wants researchers to pursue the topic of UFOs.
In this context, the intelligence report is welcome. The report draws few concrete conclusions about UFOs and avoids any reference to aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft. However, it notes the importance of destigmatizing UFOs so that more pilots report what they see. It also sets a goal of moving from anecdotal observations to standardized and scientific data collection.
Time will tell if this is enough to draw scientists into the effort, but the transparency to publish the report at all reverses a long history of secrecy surrounding US government reports on UFOs.
I don’t see any convincing evidence of alien spacecraft, but as a curious scientist, I hope the subset of UFO sightings that are truly unexplained gets closer study. Scientists are unlikely to weigh in if their skepticism generates attacks from “true believers” or they get ostracized by their colleagues. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there.
Australia’s capital Canberra to enter seven-day lockdown
Australia’s capital Canberra was ordered into a seven-day lockdown on Thursday (Aug 12), after a single COVID-19 case was detected in the city that has largely avoided virus restrictions.
About 400,000 people in the nation’s political hub will be under stay-at-home orders from 5pm local time, joining millions more already under lockdown in Australia’s southeast.
“This is the most serious public health risk that we are faced in the territory this year. Really, since the beginning of the pandemic,” Australian Capital Territory chief minister Andrew Barr said.
He added that the COVID-positive person had been in the community while infectious.
Canberra has not been in lockdown since a nationwide shutdown in the early stages of the pandemic in 2020.
After months of pursuing a “COVID zero” strategy, Australia is struggling to contain multiple outbreaks of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
More than 10 million people in the country’s biggest cities, Melbourne and Sydney, are currently in lockdown as authorities try to bring case numbers down.
Much of western New South Wales state was also placed under lockdown late Wednesday, amid concerns for a sizeable Indigenous population feared more vulnerable to coronavirus.
“I ask all our Aboriginal community as well to please stay at home, come forward for a test if you have symptoms and of course please get vaccinated with any available vaccine as soon as you can,” New South Wales Health’s Marianne Gale said.
In Sydney, the epicentre of the outbreak, almost 6,500 cases and 36 deaths have been recorded since a cluster emerged in mid-June.
The city is expected to spend at least nine weeks under stay-at-home orders, with several hotspot suburbs placed under harsher restrictions on Thursday.
Australia won global praise for its successful coronavirus response in the early stages of the pandemic, and most of the country was enjoying few restrictions by late 2020.
But a glacial vaccination rollout has been no match for the Delta variant, leaving cities and towns reliant on repeated lockdowns as they attempt to stamp out the coronavirus.
The nation has recorded more than 37,500 cases of COVID-19 and 946 related deaths to date in a population of 25 million. AFP
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Russia to reveal ‘mystery plane’ at MAKS 2021
After months of speculation, that something top secret and special was happening at Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation, the countdown has begun.
UAC, part of the Russian state corporation Rostec, has teased the reveal of a new fighter jet on July 20, 2021, on the first day of the MAKS 2021 International Aviation and Space Salon in Zhukovsky, Aerotime Hub reported.
The upcoming aircraft, dubbed “Checkmate,” could be a light fighter jet “with a supersonic speed capability and low radar signature,” a source told Russian news agency TASS.
And according to a newly released trailer (attached below), this aircraft could be mainly oriented towards export.
“Russia is one of the few countries in the world with full-cycle capacities for producing advanced aircraft systems, as well as a recognized trendsetter in the creation of combat aircraft,” a Rostec spokesman commented.
“The new product developed by UAC specialists should arouse genuine interest not only in our country but also in other regions of the world, including our competitors abroad.”
In teasing its release, a press statement by Rostec gave props to Russia as one of the few countries in the world which had “full-cycle technologies for the production of advanced aircraft systems.,” Newsweek reported.
It says the upcoming unveiling will be of a “fundamentally new military aircraft.”
It also praised Russia’s status as a world leader in “making combat aircraft,” suggesting that the new plane could be a fighter jet.
“We are convinced that the new product developed by UAC specialists will arouse genuine interest not only in our country but in other regions of the world, including our competitors abroad,” the statement added.
Chess is a motif of the aircraft’s promotion which is surrounded by mystery.
At midnight Monday, the UAC website launched a countdown clock next to an image of a black knight chess piece. It invited web users to “turn the chessboard” and view a 34-second trailer.
Adding to the intrigue is a tweet in Russian on the UAC Twitter account that says: “everything is easier than it seems. #checkmate. Something is planned.”
Meanwhile, Defenseworld.net noted that Rostec had previously said it was developing a single-engine fighter jet.
It reported that speculation also included other possibilities such as a down-sized Su-57, or a 4.5 generation jet to challenge the F-16 Viper and the Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Block III.
The War Zone also reported that the shadow of an aircraft over water in Rostec’s promotional video was similar to the Mikoyan MiG-35 multirole fighter jet.
There is strong speculation that Russia intends to do a hard sell with India.
For more than a decade, Russia has been attempting to sell the MiG-35 (NATO code name Fulcrum), an upgraded version of the MiG-29 fighter, to the Indian Air Force.
The Indian Air Force was apparently not impressed with the Fulcrum, but Russia has continued to describe India as a prospective buyer.
According to The Week Magazine, in May of this year, Russian news agencies reported the Sukhoi design bureau was developing a single-engine fighter.
At the time, TASS had reported, “The Sukhoi company is developing a single-engine light tactical plane with the take-off weight of up to 18 tonnes. The plane’s maximum speed will be above 2 Mach (twice the speed of sound).
“It will also have super-manoeuvrability and improved take-off and landing performance, thanks to a thrust vector control engine …”
If confirmed as a single-engine fighter, the new fighter could be considered the Russian counter to the US F-35 project, which has been developed with industrial partnerships with multiple nations such as the UK, Australia, Italy and Israel.
That would also make the “Checkmate” name apt. Especially if the price point is much lower than the F-35 or other US and European fighter jets, currently being offered.
The 2021 edition of the MAKS International Aviation and Space Salon is to take place at Zhukovsky airport near Moscow from July 20 to 25, 2021.
Sources: Aerotime Hub, Newsweek, Defenseworld.net, The War Zone, The Week Magazine
Tech giants give vaccines to Taiwan, sidestep China
Taiwanese tech giants Foxconn and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company announced Monday they will each donate five million coronavirus vaccine doses to the government in a deal with a China-based distributor. Taipei has been struggling to secure enough vaccines for its population and its precarious political status has been a major stumbling block. As Taipei and […]
The post Tech giants give vaccines to Taiwan, sidestep China appeared first on Asia Times.
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