Extraterrestrials

Pentagon Investigates UFO Sightings and an Interstellar Visitor Zips Through Solar System

Survey finds 47 percent of people believe in the existence of intelligent alien civilizations in the universe.

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AlienParkingAmericanspiritDreamstimes
Americanspirit/Dreamstime

It's strange convergence time. Just as Oumuamua, the first detected alien visitor from another star system zips through our solar system, the New York Times reveals the existence of the Pentagon's secretive Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program that has been investigating reports of unidentified flying objects since 2007.

Oumuamua, a reddish cigar-shaped body 1,300 feet in length, was detected on October 19 by astronomers associated with the University of Hawaii who are part of the worldwide Near-Earth Object discovery effort. According to the Washington Post, its unusual shape prompted Andrew Siemion, director of the Berkeley Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Research Center, to observe, "The possibility that this object is, in fact, an artificial object — that it is a spaceship, essentially — is a remote possibility."

In an attempt to see if Oumuamua might be an interstellar spaceship, the Breakthrough Listen project funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner turned the Green Bank Telescope toward the object. Breakthrough Listen monitors billions of radio frequencies across the 1 to 12 GHz range in search for evidence of technological life in the universe. It aims to survey one million nearby stars, the entire galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies at a wide range of radio and optical bands.

The Breakthrough Listen researchers have detected no signals emanating from Oumuamua.

Much closer to home, the Pentagon has quietly been investigating reports of various unidentified flying objects, including the analysis of video taken by military planes of unexplained aerial phenomena. Luis Elizondo, who resigned as head the Department of Defense's UFO program in October, told CNN, "My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone."

How would Americans react to the announcement that alien life had been discovered? Most evidence suggests they would not freak out. A survey commissioned by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in August found that 47 percent of Americans believe in aliens and 39 percent believe that "aliens have visited Earth before." Only 17 percent, however, report having seen UFOs themselves. One of the more tongue-in-cheek questions on the survey asked whom respondents would volunteer to be abducted by aliens. Some 17 percent said that they would volunteer themselves (I would).

A global survey released on December 14 by Dutch researchers involving more than 26,000 people from 24 countries finds:

  • 61 percent of people believe that there is some form of life on other planets. 17 percent rule this out and only 22 percent say that they don't know.

  • 47 percent of people believe in the existence of intelligent alien civilizations in the universe. 26 percent rule this out and 28 percent say that they don't know.

  • 25 percent believe that the first form of life on earth arrived here from another place in the universe. 39 percent do not believe this and 36 percent say they don't know.

  • Of the 47 percent people who believe that advanced alien civilizations exists, 60 percent say that humans should try to get in contact with these civilizations. 21 percent say that we should not try and seek contact and 19 percent say that they don't know.

Earlier this month, researchers from Arizona State University confirmed in two studies this generally positive attitude among Americans toward the discovery of alien life. In one study, researchers analyzed the language used in various news reports from 1967 to the present suggesting the discovery of alien life. The language used in those reports skewed positive.

The researchers then asked 501 subjects recruited online through Mechanical Turk to write responses to two questions: How would they react to the annoucement of the discovery of alien microbial life and how do they think the public at large would respond? LiveScience reports that most participants "felt they, personally, would respond to the announcement of microbial E.T.s with a little more positivity than the public at large, but they still thought humanity as a whole would be enthused."

In their second study, the researchers asked 256 subjects to read a real New York Times article from 1996 (date removed for the study) reporting the discovery of nanobacteria fossils in a Martian meteorite. (I was riveted by the news at the time.) Again, the ASU researchers report that participants' reactions were overwhelmingly positive. "Taken together, we believe this work strongly suggests that if we do discover life of non-earthly origin, on the whole, human beings and human societies are likely to respond positively," researchers conclude.

Never mind alien microbes; how would folks react to the discovery of intelligent alien life? The ASU researchers note that "the majority of Americans, British, and Germans believe that some form of extraterrestrial life exists, and large percentages of Americans believe that not only does intelligent extraterrestrial life exist, but also that it has already visited us. And yet, in none of these societies have we seen an utter breakdown in social order or panic as a result of these widespread beliefs."

The upshot is that most of us are disappointed that we have not heard any alien greetings out of Oumuamua.

Disclosure: I have never seen a UFO. Please direct any you come across to visit me in Charlottesville, Va.

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89 responses to “Pentagon Investigates UFO Sightings and an Interstellar Visitor Zips Through Solar System

  1. There is no rational basis to the idea that there isn’t intelligent life somewhere in the universe that isn’t us. None whatsoever.

    1. I beg to differ. It is just optimistic thinking. We still have yet to figure out how life started here. The chances of life spontaneously beginning and then life evolving to sentience very well may be one in the number of planets in the universe. I am a giant science and sci-fi nerd, but I do not let my hopes blind me to the reality that there is zero evidence to suggest life is common, and even if it is common in microbial form (which I think is likely), the conditions that allow it to evolve to intelligence and self-awareness are going to be exceedingly rare. Perhaps as rare as 1 in the number of planets in the universe, and we are that one.

      1. We know that we exist, and in a virtually infinite universe it has therefore occurred somewhere else.

        Now, that said, the odd’s we will ever find it or it will find us is virtually nil.

        1. Recent theories I have heard about seem to suggest that the conditions for complex life to arise here are due to the peculiarities of having a terrestrial planet with an oversized moon. The Earth has a large moon because of an extremely unlikely impact with the correct sized object at the exactly correct angle. This is likely to have happened elsewhere in the universe, but is probably very uncommon.

          1. Yes, very uncommon indeed. Uncommon is a virtual certainty in an infinite system though, which is the problem.

            Maybe the universe isn’t infinite, but it’s big enough that it counts.

            1. The mass of the universe is supposedly not infinite.


              1. “It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.”

                ? Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

                As accurate as anything else? (joking)

            2. Is there other life in the universe?

              Almost certainly.

              Is there other life that is technologically advanced enough and close enough to send a starship at us?

              The odds are very much against it.

          2. Microbial life is probably pretty common in the Universe. Microbial life is what happens when CO2 trapped inside a planet wants to escape out into space. It has been said that the purpose of life is to hydrogenate carbon dioxide. Now as for complex life, there are several very unlikely steps that each took a very long time to evolve, like hundreds of millions of years. The water-splitting complex of cyanobacteria photosynthesis is one. The evolution of meiosis is another. The evolution of phagocytosis is a third. That’s all just to get to multicellularity. On top of that, you need high oxygen content to support multicellular life. It took almost a billion years for the ocean to sufficiently oxygenated because of a complex series of conditions that geologists are still trying to wrap their heads around.

            1. Combine this with the average lifespan of an earth-like planet, which is about 5 billion years before the sun goes all red giant on it, and you have a pretty small window for complex life. Add to this the fact that the habitable zone of the galaxy is limited by the low metallicity of peripheral stars and the high supernova frequency close to the core, and the chance of complex life evolving does not seem such a given.

              However, I still believe there are probably other complex life planets out there, even given all this. Just not as many as people believe. Probably just a few.

              1. Finally, we now have confirmation that Bailey likes to be probed.

                1. Yeah, I don’t see how the volunteer mission for abductees is anything but a quick, short, and painful death sentence at the high end of the probability spectrum and long, drawn out, and exceedingly painful death sentence at the low end.

                  Even if they didn’t want to test our durability to being blown out of an airlock, it would only make sense that they would want to shred human consciousness to examine the pieces and wouldn’t really know nor care about circadian rhythms and regular feeding intervals (at our time schedules) in the process. Chess with Spock or even a ‘comfy’ 2001-style acid-trip ascension seems exceedingly unlikely.

                  1. Some people want to know for themselves, even if it kills them I suppose.

                  2. According to a recent survey, far more of the respondents who believe they have been relocated by aliens (whether from outer space or non-space) said their experience was a positive one than said it was a bad one. Therefore the term “relocation” is favored over “abduction” to describe the experience.

        2. In response to BYODB’s assertion that our own existence practically guarantees that of life elsewhere: By that same logic, our universe offers precedent for many/infinite universes, or perhaps our universe is infinitely cyclical, or both.

          Given that, it is not just possible, but likely that life isn’t just a once-in-a-universe possibility, but is in fact far less common than even that. If life were to only occur in one out of every 10 trillion universes, or cycles, the odds of life generating more than once in the same universe are infinitesimally small. nevertheless, every single sentient life that DID evolve in this scenario would wonder if it was alone, and ultimately entertain the (erroneous, in this case) conclusion that being the sole life in existence is unlikely.

      2. See my comment below, according to Sagan, the huge numbers of galaxies and star systems, the chances of some life forming somewhere in the universe are actually pretty good.

        1. All of these methods and statistics are based entirely off of assumptions, though. My guess is no less scientific or likely to be true than Sagan’s.

          1. Actually your ‘guess’ is less scientific since mathematically you’re almost certainly wrong.

          2. Not entirely. For instance, it’s known that meteorites carry amino acids– which most scientists agree are the building blocks of life. From there, scientists and astronomers for whom this stuff is more than a hobby can probably do a reasonable extrapolation on the chances of life starting elsewhere– solar systems with suns at the right age, probability of planets in the ‘habitable zone’ etc.

            And we’re talking about time spans of billions of years.

            The probability of a civilization developing on a potentially habitable alien planet would have to be less than one in 10 billion trillion ? or one part in 10 to the 22nd power ? for humanity to be the first technologically advanced species the cosmos has ever known, according to the study.

            […]

            “But even that guess ? one chance in a trillion ? implies that what has happened here on Earth with humanity has in fact happened about 10 billion other times over cosmic history.”

            the article goes on to discuss the probability of civilizations just within the Milky Way galaxy, let alone the billions of galaxies that exist in the universe. When you consider the numbers of chances for life to start, it doesn’t seem unlikely at all.

        2. I tend to think of Sagan has a hack these days, but the concept is so simple that it would be impressive if even Sagan got it wrong.

          1. I don’t know why you would think Sagan is a hack.

            1. Because most of what he does is political these days instead of scientific, but that doesn’t make him wrong it just makes him a more educated Bill Nye.

              1. Well, that and I assume you watched some of Sagan’s video’s from back in the day? He’s kind of kooky in general.

              2. Lol, I gotta check out some of this stuff that Zombie Sagan has been doing.

              3. Since Sagan has been dead since 1996 I don’t think he is doing to much politically these days. Sagan was no hack he actually contributed to science unlike Bill Nye

                1. He had a political bent, but it was not nearly as obnoxious about it as Tyson and Nye are today.

                  At least, that was my impression.

                2. After writing that comment I thought about it and realized that I had somehow managed to get Sagan crossed with Tyson since I recalled his ancient video’s and realized that Sagan was not, in fact, black. Wow, I give up. I have the dumbs.

              4. Sagan is dead and has been for 20 years. Are you referring to Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

      3. the conditions that allow it to evolve to intelligence and self-awareness are going to be exceedingly rare.

        Given that we don’t fully know our origins or understand our consciousness this can’t be known. Certainly, cellular envelopes and nucleotide-based information storage are or could be exceedingly rare, but we’ve repeatedly demonstrated even on this planet and in a relatively short period of time that they’re hardly the only way to create something vaguely resembling sentient life.

      4. There’s pretty good evidence that life is either common or easy, given that Earth has evidence of life pretty much as far back as fossil records physically could exist. It would be inherently improbable for life to be so rare it only spontaneously generates happens only once across 250 billion stars, but happen to spontaneously generate as soon as physically possible at that one star.

        Now, it is absolutely true that the evidence is that intelligent life is rare enough that it hasn’t arisen in this galaxy prior to us (except maybe a relative handful of cases that failed to progress much beyond where we are today). The galaxy is small enough (a mere hundred thousand light years) compared to its age (13-odd billion years) that it should have been colonized long before we had a chance to evolve if it would happen naturally at a rate of, say, once per billion stars.

        But, in an observable universe of two trillion galaxies, something rare enough that it only happens once per million galaxies has still happened two million of times. We will probably never contact any of those millions; intergalactic space is far too deep.

        1. Yeah, that finding was what turned me around on the subject. When it was believed that life didn’t exist on this planet for most of its existence even after conditions made it possible, then it seemed to me only the Weak Anthropic Principle accounted for there being life anywhere in a universe. Now that it seems life arose pretty quickly once conditions permitted, I’ll entertain the possibility that life in some form may not be the fluke I once thought it. But the Weak Anthropic Principle in a multiverse still may be the only way to acc’t for thinking life.

          1. But then, I’m not convinced thinking per se requires the particip’n of matter.

      5. You know what else has a very low probability? The chance that Earth is some super-special planet out of all the planets in the universe, and that processes that happened here can’t occur elsewhere.

        1. You can run the Drake Equation for yourself and estimate how many advanced civilizations there are. I would say between 1 and 10 per galaxy. If there’s only 1 per galaxy, it would explain why the number of alien visitors is so low as to be undetectable. Everyone assumes warp speed will be easy to achieve, but it may not.

          1. The great horror of the universe would be that there really is a speed limit.

    2. Just as there’s no rational basis to the idea that they routinely visit us. Sheesh.

      1. Absolutely, the odd’s ‘intelligent life’ could find us at all is irrational unless life is far more common than anyone suspects. Relativity by itself virtually guarantee’s it. Our EM bubble isn’t that big, and even if it was far larger past a certain point it’s just background noise anyway. The people ‘listening’ for intelligent life are almost certainly wasting their time and money, but that’s up to them I guess.

        Even if, by some miracle, they located a signal it would almost certainly be from a race that’s already dead.

        1. Even if, by some miracle, they located a signal it would almost certainly be from a race that’s already dead.

          Dead, indecipherably complex, consciously preserved for the ages, or some combination of the three. Hell, anything making contact with humans 1000 or even potentially 100 yrs. into the future won’t necessarily be making contact with anything we’d recognize as human.

      2. Except for the thousands of videos from all over the earth showing the same thing. And the cave drawings from thousands of years ago with people wearing space suits in them. The evidence is all over the place. I don’t blame the government for playing stupid all these years – the last thing they want to do is show their hand. $20 million government project in the last 10 years? This has been going on way longer than that. This is just the first step in disclosure.

  2. Arrival was a pretty good movie.

    1. The Expanse is a pretty good book series/tv show.

      1. I’m actually making my way through season 1 of The Expanse right now, and I gotta say it’s exceeding expectations. No one does rocket-based science fiction anymore, although I haven’t heard them talk about how long it actually takes to get from point A to point B in their universe yet.

        1. The books make it clear that, even with the Epstein Drive, it takes a long-ass time to get from, say, Ceres to Neptune. And since engine thrust is the source of gravity on ships, the faster you go, the more unpleasant the trip is for everybody aboard.

          1. Watching some people putz around on a ship for two straight months between action sequences might be realistic, but i think it was a reasonable thing for the producers of the show to elide.

            1. Yeah, imagine a movie about the Pilgrims that was three quarters about the 5 month voyage of the Mayflower.

              1. Hey, one dude fell off the Mayflower partway through that voyage! He was rescued, and went on to become the ancestor of Joseph Smith, the Baldwins, the Bushes, Doc Brown, and me.

                1. Should have thrown him back.

            2. Oh absolutely, I just thought it was odd that they didn’t even mention it but you’re right that it was just for pacing reasons. In all fairness I might have just missed it when they dropped that bit of exposition, but either way it’s still good stuff. I’m a bigger fan of the more limited Heinlein brand of old fashioned science fiction and this seems to scratch that pretty good.

        2. I finished both seasons and it is one by far one of the best science fiction TV shows ever made. I have only made it through Caliban’s War in the books.

          My only complaint was that Jim Holden in the show took a while to develop into what I thought he already was in the books. And if you haven’t read any of the books, it can be a little complicated at first. But well worth it!

          1. Yeah, it’s one of those shows that I fully intended on reading the books after watching it.

            Honestly, The Expanse is one of those shows that seems to do all of those things I wish it would do with it’s universe. It’s honestly pretty amazing so far. Thanks, Amazon Prime.

          2. I actually stopped in the middle of season two as a disappointment in how it was adapted. Season 1 ended in the middle of the first book, and then the big, climactic ending of book 1 was like the fourth episode of season 2, or something like that. Watching the episode that followed it gave me a sense of vertigo in terms of the show’s pacing and I couldn’t get back into it.

            I still love the books, though.

    2. Crusty, Arrival was good, but the story it is based on is so much better. They didn’t really go into Fermat’s Principle of Least Time, which was pretty central to the story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed to movie, just as I am sure I will enjoy Annihilation, even though I can already tell from the trailer that it will be nothing like the book. The book is my favorite weird fiction of all time.

  3. The Man Who Fell to Earth is a good movie.

    1. “Space Oddity” is a pretty good song.

        1. We know Major Tom’s a junkie.

  4. Contact almost made Jodie Foster seem sexy.

    1. No it didn’t.

      1. Even for a lesbian?

  5. Survey finds 47 percent of people believe in the existence of intelligent alien civilizations in the universe.

    It has to exist somewhere, even if it doesn’t exist here.

    I’m surprised it’s only 47%.

    I always liked Carl Sagan’s theory: That it’s more likely than not that there are other civilizations in the universe, simply because of the sheer numbers and probability– but because of the vast distances between them, those civilizations will wink on and wink off without ever making contact.

    1. I heard some crazy stuff happened log ago in a galaxy far, far away.

    2. I think Carl used some form of the Drake Equation. I think the problem with most of the people I’ve seen refer to that equation is that they leave out some key factors, like number of planets that have significant magnetic fields, but without crushing gravity. Based on our limited knowledge at this point, Earth could be very rare in that respect.

      1. Even if earth is very rare (an assumption) how rare would it have to be to be the only one in a universe full of galaxies? The earth could be one in a trillion rare, and still be quite common throughout the universe. See my comment above about one study that was done that actually tried to calculate that rarity (or lackthereof).

        1. And, again, this suffers from a distinct form of biological chauvinism. If you divest from or broaden definitions such that methane and ammonia constitute sufficient solvents to support life, the chances that other life exists or existed go up (if not for sacrificing our ability to interact with them). If you go full-anti-anthropomorphism/chauvinism, there’s no reason to assume that there aren’t places in the Universe where the subatomic forces oscillate in a manner giving rise to mechanisms by which the oscillations monitor, control, and/or propagate themselves.

          1. Sure, but I can’t speak to that. I can only use the material I have to work with here, which is Amino acids.

        2. Terra has an extra strong magnetic field for its size due to it absorbing the iron core of Theia during the impact that formed Luna.

          1. Possible, but I’d be curious to discover which planetary cores we’re comparing things to =P

            But yeah, it’s about as likely as the few other theories on the subject I’d suppose.

  6. Of the 47 percent people who believe that advanced alien civilizations exists, 60 percent say that humans should try to get in contact with these civilizations. 21 percent say that we should not try and seek contact and 19 percent say that they don’t know.

    So… 79% of people who believe in advanced alien civilizations are completely and utterly retarded.

  7. Nothing like the Fermi paradox to get the commentariat’s juices flowing. Well, at those of us who are nerds anyway.

  8. Facebook and Twitter are the main reasons why aliens won’t talk to us.

  9. Survey finds 47 percent of people believe in the existence of intelligent alien civilizations in the universe

    A perfectly reasonable belief.

    Believing they visit the Earth and do the various things attributed to them, well, not so much.

  10. Seems like the UFO story should be the biggest news of the year. But people are laughing off the video from US Navy pilots as if it were some redneck on a bass boat confusing swamp gas or Jupiter with an alien landing craft. So far I haven’t seen or heard any good explanations for the video. Optical illusions don’t bank and rotate and fly off at high speed in a different direction.

    1. Humanity has a long and storied tradition of anthropomorphizing randomly occurring phenomena. How many times was ball lightning mistaken for a god of some sort?

    2. The thing that gives me pause is the video seems to be constantly banking as you said. The thing was moving in a circle?

  11. I don’t believe in the existence of intelligent life on Earth.

  12. Art Bell was right all along.

    1. That people will listen to radio late at night? That George Noory “gets it”? That George Noory sucks? That Heather Wade (Redacted) gets it?

      He picked one really excellent successor: Ian Punnet. Too bad about the headphone-exacerbated tinnitus, though.

      I think George Knapp came along by luck.

      1. I delivered pizzas from 4pm-4am in a college town four nights a week in college – mid-90s – you can only listen to so much rock and roll. The owner of the shop would turn on Art at midnight – fantastic show. Got me hooked.

      2. Never got into Noory. Rev. Punnet was awesome.

  13. UFOs are just another rendition of a sky-god belief system in new guise. Same attributes of any sky-god…unseen, higher intelligence, hopefully intervening in human affairs, believers desperate to “prove” it exists. No surprise a variety of new religions have centered on UFO lore as their basis

    1. …unseen

      F-18 pilot: “There’s a whole fleet of them, look on the SA”

  14. Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space, ’cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth

  15. Even if intelligent life is fairly common, we are talking about very deep time. The Earth was around for billions of years before intelligence evolved. The odds that any two civilizations exist at the same time are very long odds, indeed.
    That being said, it is doubtful much life evolved too much earlier else where than it did on Earth, simply because you need x many stellar life cycles before you have carbon.

  16. NO ONE CAM HERE YOU VOTE IN SPACE!!!1!1!1!1!1!-!1

  17. What amazes me is that the Department of Defense released a video of a UFO that was corroborated by like a dozen pilots, several radar sources and the media just considers it all a big joke.

    I mean, it’s there. It’s doing stuff that vehicles can’t possibly do. Not just with our technology, but the laws of physics as we know them. And we just ignore it?

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