Over the weekend, New York Times reporters got a shocking number of military and ex-military personnel on the record about a five-year program to investigate unidentified flying objects. While the government has investigated UFOs and UFO sightings off and on for decades, most of that work has been kept top secret. So that the Department of Defense would publicly release this video, of a 2004 sighting by two pilots of a UFO over San Diego, is surprising in of itself.
But one thing this video doesn’t answer is: What the heck even is this thing?
- Events like this, it should be noted, aren’t unusual: Conspiracy theorists have pointed out for decades that astronauts have gone on the record as observing UFOs. Nor are they alone, although some claims are, uh, less credible than others.
- Sometimes, there’s a reasonable explanation: John Glenn witnessed, with Friendship 7, motes of beautiful light surrounding his ship, for example. It’s a beautiful, touching story, but, uh, it was his own frozen pee catching the sunlight.
- That said, this video is unnerving: It’s shot with an industrial camera as the object is chased by an F-18 Super Hornet. That it glows so brightly indicates that it’s giving off a lot of heat, and it rotates while moving at high speeds. It certainly appears as if an object is matching the plane movement for movement at half the speed of sound.
- Still, there are a few explanations a bit more prosaic than aliens: The most obvious? The camera’s busted, or something is stuck to the lens. These are delicate electronics and a lot can go wrong even when they’re kept in perfect conditions. Which is part of the reason the military investigates UFOs in the first place; they’re often sensor errors that need to get fixed. Once you see how this camera is supposed to operate, mechanical error becomes a lot more likely. Unless this thing had powerful thrusters and stayed in front of an F-18 at half the speed of sound the entire time it was banking, it’s worth asking why we don’t see the same crisp edges of a constructed object.
- Of course, this could be aliens: One of the problems of using deductive reasoning is that you remove possibilities. The idea that aliens are poking around on Earth, perhaps observing us like anthropologists, perhaps just messing with us, is still possible. Unlikely, but possible.
What it comes down to is that we can’t jump to aliens. We need to rule out absolutely everything else, no matter how compelling the footage. This isn’t just to be a buzzkill, mind you. When we explore the world around us, we often uncover new and amazing things. The search for aliens has done quite a bit for astronomy. Alchemists looking to violate the laws of physics helped lay the foundations for modern chemistry.
We should look for answers in the unknown. We just shouldn’t assume it’s aliens quite yet.