Skip to main content

Scientists call for serious study of 'unidentified aerial phenomena'

An unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) caught on a U.S. Navy jet's Forward-looking Infrared (FLIR) camera system in 2004.
An unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP) caught on a U.S. Navy jet's Forward-looking Infrared (FLIR) camera system in 2004.
(Image: © DOD/U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Navy recently admitted that, indeed, strangely behaving objects caught on video by jet pilots over the years are genuine head-scratchers. There are eyewitness accounts not only from pilots but from radar operators and technicians, too. 

In August, the Navy established an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) Task Force to investigate the nature and origin of these odd sightings and determine if they could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security. 

The recently observed UAPs purportedly have accelerations that range from almost 100 Gs to thousands of Gs — far higher than a human pilot could survive. There's no air disturbance visible. They don't produce sonic booms. These and other oddities have captured the attention of "I told you so, they're here" UFO believers. 

But there's also a rising call for this phenomenon to be studied scientifically — even using satellites to be on the lookout for possible future UAP events.

Related: 7 things most often mistaken for UFOs

Wanted: high-quality evidence

Philippe Ailleris is a project controller at the European Space Agency's Space Research and Technology Center in the Netherlands. He's also the primary force behind the Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Observations Reporting Scheme, a project to facilitate the collection of UAP reports from both amateur and professional astronomers.

There's a need for the scientific study of UAPs and a requirement to assemble reliable evidence, something that could not be so easily ignored by science, Ailleris told Space.com. 

It is necessary to bring scientists objective and high-quality data, Ailleris said. "No one knows where and when a UAP can potentially appear, hence the difficulty of scientific research in this domain."

New tools

Recent years have seen rapid advances in information and communication technologies — for example, open tools and software, cloud computing and artificial intelligence with machine and deep learning, Ailleris said. These tools offer scientists new possibilities to collect, store, manipulate and transmit data. 

Ailleris points to another potent tool. "The location over our heads of satellites is the perfect chance to potentially detect something," he said. 

Working in the space sector, it occurred to Ailleris that Earth-observation civilian satellites could be used to search for UAPs. One avenue is tapping into free-of-charge imagery collected by the European Union's Copernicus satellites, an Earth-observing program coordinated and managed by the European Commission in partnership with ESA.

Also, there are more and more Earth-scanning spacecraft being launched to take the pulse of our globe. Such work is no longer limited to major countries or powers, Ailleris said; private actors have also entered the planet-viewing scene.

"This evolution will stimulate forward-thinking ideas across different domains, including controversial topics," Ailleris said. "And why not the UAP research field?"

Related: UFO watch: 8 times the government looked for flying saucers

The "Gimbal" UAP, observed off the U.S. East Coast by a Navy jet in 2015. (Image credit: DOD/U.S. Navy)

UAP expedition

Working with Ailleris to employ satellite imagery to detect and monitor UAPs is Kevin Knuth, a former scientist with NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley. He is now an associate professor of physics at the University at Albany in New York.

"We are looking into using satellites to monitor the region of ocean south of Catalina Island where the 2004 Nimitz encounters occurred," Knuth said, referring to UAP sightings reported by pilots and radar operators based aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.

That area will also be the target for a 2021 UAP expedition carried out by Knuth and other researchers. The goal of the outing is "to provide unassailable scientific evidence that UAP objects are real, UAP objects are findable and UAP objects are knowable," according to the website for the project, which is called UAPx. 

The UAPx team includes military veterans and physicists, as well as research scientists and trained observers that will use specialized gear to observe any would-be UAP.

"We are hoping to detect UAPs, determine their characteristics, flight patterns and any patterns in activity that will allow us to study them more effectively," Knuth told Space.com. "In addition to monitoring a region for UAPs, we are also looking into using satellites to obtain independent confirmation of prominent UAP sightings and to obtain quantifiable information about those UAPs." 

Related: 5 bold claims of alien life

The "GoFast" UAP, observed by a U.S. Navy jet in 2015. (Image credit: DOD/U.S. Navy)

Science problem

"I certainly think that UAP deserve to be studied, just like we would do with any other problem in science," said Jacob Haqq-Misra, an astrobiologist with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle, Washington. 

In August, Haqq-Misra helped organize a NASA-sponsored interdisciplinary workshop, called TechnoClimes 2020, that sought to prioritize and guide future theoretical and observational studies of non-radio "technosignatures" — that is, observational manifestations of technology, particularly those that could be detected through astronomical or other means. 

Haqq-Misra said his knowledge regarding UAPs stems from the public domain, such as the recently released Navy videos and Department of Defense comments. But otherwise, he has not conducted any of his own investigations into the problem. 

"I also remain agnostic as to any particular hypothesis that might explain UAP, at least until we have more data to consider," Haqq-Misra said. "The non-human intelligence hypothesis is a popular one, but I don't necessarily have any indication that it is more probable than any other hypothesis at this point."

Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAPx) expedition logo.

Logo of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon expedition, or UAPx. (Image credit: UAPx)

'Outlaws' of physics

Ravi Kopparapu is a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland who studies planetary habitability, climate modeling and chemistry in the context of exoplanet atmosphere characterization. He views the UAP/UFO phenomena as a scientifically interesting problem, driven in part by observations that seem to defy the laws of physics. 

That said, Kopparapu said he's wary of bringing the term "extraterrestrial" into the conversation. "That's because there is absolutely no concrete evidence that I know of that points to them as being extraterrestrial," he said. 

"There's a fundamental problem that we have right now to scientifically study UAP," Kopparapu said. "We do not have proper data collection of this phenomena that can be shared among interested scientists to verify claims and filter out truly unexplainable events."

Also, the entire UAP topic has been much maligned by being associated with ET, Kopparapu added. This association prevents a thorough scientific investigation by the science community, he feels, essentially because of a taboo surrounding ET claims. 

"I think people immediately think about 'aliens' when they hear UFOs/UAPs, and I want scientists to not fall for that," Kopparapu said. "Be strictly agnostic and don't let preconceived ideas cloud judgments. Have an open mind. Consider this as a science problem. If it turns out these have mundane explanations, so be it."

Kopparapu and like-minded colleagues are proposing a completely unbiased, agnostic approach to study UAP, he said: "Let the data lead us to what they are."

Leonard David is author of the recently released book, "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. This version of the story published on Space.com.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

  • Jack Sarfatti
    CIA and DOD agents asked me to work on the UFO/Consciousness problem back in the 1970s. See MIT's David Kaiser's award-winning book "How the Hippies Saved Physics." I with other physicists have now solved the physics mystery on how the Tic Tac flies and we can build our own. My Cornell physics professors built the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, we now need a new Manhattan Project to build our own Tic Tacs for the US Space Force. Vladimir Putin's agents interviewed me about my thoughts on this back in 2014. This is a new space arms race.
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM1pWjIoLCxzj7sz6dk51gQhttps://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/top-physicist-claims-uss-nimitz-21726921
    Reply
  • monkeyisland
    Very intriguing. But why would someone travel back in, and through, time, just to drop 79,950 feet through our atmosphere. I would think there is very little sense in even coming back to recent times. Unless what was witnessed was an artifact of something traveling through time and what we saw was the equivalent of seeing a meteoroid skipping through the atmosphere for only a moment? Another thing that puzzles me is that the time-traveling vehicle would have to also travel through space. If Earth is traveling at 45 million miles per day through space, the vehicle would need to make up for that motion/distance, I would think. Especially when dealing with years. Also the conservation of energy and matter; if a time-travel vehicle appears suddenly in our time, there is suddenly an influx of atoms that aren't supposed to be here (duplicates of atoms), and a sudden depletion of those atoms in the future.
    Reply
  • Jack Sarfatti
    "Yours is not to reason why, yours is but to do or die" ;-)
    Either US NAVY is lying and Tic Tacs do not exist, or what I say about them is true.
    There are no ifs, buts and maybes.
    It's one or the other.
    This is a matter of the laws of nature.
    What you say above about time travel is wrong.
    You can start by reading Kip Thorne's book
    "Black Holes and Time Warps"
    This is very serious business and I am working with very serious people.
    Reply
  • Bjja
    Jack Sarfatti said:
    ... we can build our own.

    Have you built a working prototype?
    Reply
  • alemigav
    Jack Sarfatti, thank you so much for your work, and may you live long.
    Reply
  • PressToDigitate
    Admin said:
    There's a rising call for "unidentified aerial phenomena" to be studied scientifically, perhaps even using satellites to be on the lookout for possible future events.

    Scientists call for serious study of 'unidentified aerial phenomena' : Read more
    Dr. Kopparapu is either woefully ignorant for a NASA Planetary Scientist at Goddard, or is feigning such ignorance. The Extraterrestrial nature of the UFO presence has been decisively established for decades, among other ways though the spectroscopic analysis of sample Implants extracted from Abductees, which demonstrate Isotopic Ratios incompatible with Earthly origin. Space.com has, until very recently, been a willing, if not *eager* participant in the ETUFO Coverup, ever since the site first went online. It would help to meet Space.com's resulting debt to Mankind to provide authentic journalism on the subject from here on out. You might start by not indulging the fiction that "we don't know what they are, but its probably not Aliens", when, yes, with zero scientific doubt on the subject, "It's Aliens.".
    Reply
  • Wgatling
    Using time travel is a great was to avoid the inertia problems caused by the massive acceleration and deceleration. Time travel doesn't solve the missing sonic booms. If the UAP is contacting the air as it moves, it would heat up. Ripping a hole in space time that it can travel through solves that.
    Reply
  • Geomartian

    Lots of new faces arguing for UFO’s.
    Reply
  • Bjja
    PressToDigitate said:
    ... incompatible with Earthly origin.

    The materials can be of earthly origin, and yet still be extra-terrestrial. It sounds paradoxical but it isn't. The materials are constructed and re-constructed each time a traveler enters and exits the astral realm.
    The instantaneous construction isn't process-oriented, it's goal-oriented
    Reply
  • quan1121218
    Jack Sarfatti said:
    CIA and DOD agents asked me to work on the UFO/Consciousness problem back in the 1970s. See MIT's David Kaiser's award-winning book "How the Hippies Saved Physics." I with other physicists have now solved the physics mystery on how the Tic Tac flies and we can build our own. My Cornell physics professors built the atomic bomb in the Manhattan Project, we now need a new Manhattan Project to build our own Tic Tacs for the US Space Force. Vladimir Putin's agents interviewed me about my thoughts on this back in 2014. This is a new space arms race.
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM1pWjIoLCxzj7sz6dk51gQhttps://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/top-physicist-claims-uss-nimitz-21726921
    Can I interview you?
    Reply