Unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) have long existed in the popular imagination, and they have been a hot topic for many conspiracists. Now, the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has published an official report concerning UAP, though it does little to debunk many of the conspiracies about these otherworldly phenomena.
Before anyone can jump to conclusions about extraterrestrial beings visiting Earth, let’s first understand what UAP are, how the military has handled their existence and what our current understanding of these phenomena are.
First, unidentified aerial phenomena—the preferential title, according to the ODNI report, as opposed to unidentified flying objects (UFOs)—are exactly that: unidentified. They are ill-understood, and, while unknown circumstances make for great inspiration in art, reality is far more mundane than many might expect.
The report published by ODNI offers no conclusive evidence that incidents involving UAP are or are not extraterrestrial. Had it done so, these incidents would no longer be considered “unidentified.” A total of 143 reports remain unexplained, with at least 18 incidents exhibiting technological capabilities beyond the intelligence of the United States.
The report explains that UAP most likely lack a single explanation, and can be sorted into five categories: airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, classified U.S. developmental or industrial programs, foreign adversary systems or the miscellaneous “other.”
Airborne clutter—which includes objects such as birds, balloons, plastic bags and other debris—is a frequent contender for many UAP explanations. Considering the amount of debris we’ve accumulated in space and in our oceans, it’s not difficult to imagine aerial debris as a potential explanation for assumed evidence of extraterrestrial life.
As stated in ODNI’s report, natural atmospheric phenomena can include ice crystals, moisture and thermal fluctuations that may register on standard infrared and radar systems.
Perhaps more elusive than the “other” category itself, ODNI reports that some UAP observations may be the result of classified programs developed by U.S. entities. Of course, it can not be entirely confirmed if that is the case, and little is known about what this category implies.
Technologies developed by foreign entities, or perhaps by no nation-state at all, are also not ruled out in the categories for potential explanations, although the report states that there is little evidence to suggest that foreign technologies are currently capable of registering as UAP. This subject has, however, been of particular interest to the U.S. Intelligence Community because of fears about national security threats.
Finally, everything that remains scientifically inexplicable is placed in the “other” category, but this is likely due to a lack of data and limited analytical capabilities rather than extraterrestrial technology.
What makes the phenomena unidentifiable or unexplainable has to do with current limitations of maneuverability. Three declassified videos show an object moving upwind at abnormally high speeds without observable propulsion. Currently, the fastest aircraft in the world is the SR-71 Blackbird, which relies on jet propulsion and an extremely particular design.
It is unknown how the Blackbird’s maneuverability and speed compares to the UAP in the declassified reports. In fact, no official numbers were found in the report detailing exactly how fast the UAP were traveling. Instead, the report simply states that the objects were “unusually fast.”
The propulsion of all jets, rockets and planes are explained by the same principle: Newton’s third law of motion. The law states that all forces exist in pairs, and aircraft exploit that law to forcefully eject large amounts of matter from a system, producing an equal and opposite reaction that pushes the object forward.
Several key UAP have yet to be explained because they seemingly defy the very foundational laws of physics.
The observations in the report are perhaps not impossible to reproduce, but, if the objects are confirmed to be aircraft, this could fundamentally change the way we think about our current laws of physics. The same reasoning is also why UAP are unlikely to be the result of foreign technology, since the laws of physics apply throughout the world, not just in the U.S.
There is still plenty about the universe that we do not understand, which is the reason why science and technology research exists in the first place. ODNI’s report does nothing to enhance our understanding; it only reiterates that it too has yet to fully identify everything on our planet. Whether UAP are the result of E.T. “phoning home” is doubtful—however disappointing that may be.