The United States Congress recently held a hearing on US government information regarding “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena” (UAP).
The last such investigation was over 50 years ago, as part of a US Air Force investigation called Project Blue Book, which examined reported sightings of unidentified flying objects (note the name change).
The ongoing hearings are the result of a stipulation attached to a 2020 COVID-19 relief bill, which required US intelligence agencies to report on NAPs within 180 days. This report came out in June of last year.
But why would governments be interested in NAPs? One exciting line of thought is that UAPs are extraterrestrial spacecraft visiting Earth. It’s a concept that’s getting a lot of attention, playing on decades of sci-fi movies, views of what happens in Area 51, and purported public sightings.
A much more prosaic line of thought is that governments are interested in unexplained aerial phenomena – especially those occurring within their own sovereign airspace – because they may represent technologies developed by an adversary.
Indeed, much of the discussion at the recent hearing revolved around the potential threats of UAPs, on the basis that they were man-made technologies.
None of the public testimony has helped support the conclusion that extraterrestrial spacecraft have crashed or visited Earth. The hearings included confidential, closed-door sessions that presumably dealt with more sensitive security information.
There is no doubt that unexplained phenomena have been observed, such as in images obtained by Navy pilots (above) showing rapidly moving airborne objects. But the leap to extraterrestrials requires much more substantial and direct evidence – incredible evidence – that can be broadly examined using the tools of science.
After all, the existence of life elsewhere in the universe is a fascinating question of science and society. Thus, the search for extraterrestrial life is a legitimate pursuit, subject to the same burden of proof that applies to all science.
A drop in an ocean
For the past decade, I have used radio telescopes to perform large-scale experiments to search for technosignatures – signs of technological civilizations on planets elsewhere in our galaxy (the Milky Way). But after decades of many expert teams using powerful telescopes, we still haven’t covered much ground.
If the Milky Way is considered equivalent to Earth’s oceans, the sum total of our decades of searching is like pulling a random pool of water out of the ocean to look for a shark.
On top of that, we’re not even sure that sharks exist, and if they do, what they would look like or how they would behave. Although I think life will almost certainly exist among the trillions of planets in the universe, the sheer scale of the universe is a problem.
What would it take to get in touch?
The vast volume of the universe makes it very difficult to achieve interstellar travel, receive signals, or communicate with potential distant lifeforms (at least by the laws of physics as we know them).
Speeds are limited to the speed of light, which is approximately 300,000 km per second. It’s quite fast. But even at that speed, it would take about four years for a signal to travel between Earth and the nearest star in our galaxy, which is four light years away.
But Einstein’s special theory of relativity tells us that, in practice, the speed of a physical object such as a spaceship will be slower than the speed of light.
In addition, thanks to the inverse square law of radiation, signals weaken proportionally to the square of the distance they travel. Over interstellar distances, he’s a killer.
Thus, for planets located hundreds or thousands of light-years away, the travel times are probably several thousand years. And all the signals coming from the civilizations of these planets are incredibly weak and difficult to detect.
Could it be aliens to have crashed on Earth and the US government is just covering it up, as Republican Congressman Tim Burchett claimed in his reaction to the hearing?
For airlines belonging to the International Air Transport Association, the risk of a plane crash is approximately one in a million. This begs the question: do we think an alien spacecraft that can travel for thousands of years, across interstellar distances, is more robust and better designed than our airplanes?
Let’s say it’s a hundred times better. Which means that the risk of an accident is one in a hundred million. So, to end up with alien wreckage hidden in Area 51, we would need a hundred million hits from alien spacecraft. That would be 2,739 extraterrestrial visits per day, every day, for the past 100 years!
So where are they? The near-Earth environment should be constantly buzzing with aliens.
With radar constantly scanning space, billions of cell phone cameras, and hundreds of thousands of amateur astronomers photographing the skies (as well as professional astronomers with powerful telescopes), there should be plenty of very good evidence between the hands of the general public and scientists, not just governments.
It is much more likely that the UAPs presented in the evidence are of local origin or due to natural phenomena that we do not yet understand.
In science, Occam’s razor is always an excellent starting point; the best explanation is the simplest explanation consistent with known facts. Until there is much more – and much better evidence – let’s conclude that aliens haven’t visited yet.
I can’t lie though, I hope I see a time when that proof exists. Until then, I will continue to search the skies to do my part.
How the Galileo project will search the skies for alien technology
Provided by The Conversation
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