Critical Update: Let’s Talk About UFOs

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What’s behind unidentified aerial phenomena observed by military officials? Are we alone in the universe? Nextgov asks some experts.

It can be difficult to discuss unidentified flying objects, especially for a government. While some may dismiss reports as fantasy, others argue that whatever is going on could be a threat to national security. 

“In the past, pilots were afraid to report these strange things happening—for fear it would affect their advancement in the officer corps,” former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Nextgov in this episode of Critical Update. While he was in Congress, Reid helped secure funding for the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a quiet, UFO-studying effort that became public in late 2017. That group is now considered a precursor to the Pentagon’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force.

“The one thing that we established is that not a dozen people have seen these occurrences. Not 100 of them. Thousands of people have seen them,” Reid explained. People have long been intrigued by the thought of “little green men,” and, according to the former Senate Majority Leader, it’s what people he randomly encounters often ask him about. 

Today, little is known about the modern UAP Task Force, a secretive unit investigating reports of what appear to be unexplainable aircraft, zipping across American skies. But soon, some federal personnel will have to provide certain members of Congress with information about what the government does know about UFOs—and who might be behind them.  

Regardless of whether these sightings originate from another planet or an earthbound adversary, sophisticated technologies do exist to study hard-to-decipher, seemingly alien-related observations. 

Dr. Joseph Pesce, an astrophysicist and program director in the National Science Foundation’s division of astronomical sciences provided a brief glimpse into some of the different tools humans could tap to “understand the universe around us and our part in it.” Pesce pondered the likelihood of multiple out-of-this-world possibilities, including the existence of life in outer space and UFOs’ potential to make it to Earth.

“Space travel is difficult—for many reasons,” he said. Still, Pesce later added, “I’m not arrogant enough to think that we know everything about nature and the universe, and the laws of nature.”

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