Are we alone? The question is worthy of serious scientific study

Are we alone? The question is worthy of serious scientific study
US F/A-18 footage of a UFO (circled in red).Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Credit: Parzival191919, CC BY-NC-SA

Are we alone? Unfortunately, neither of the answers feel satisfactory. To be alone in this vast universe is a lonely prospect. On the other hand, if we are not alone and there is someone or something more powerful out there, that too is terrifying.

As a NASA research scientist and now a professor of physics, I attended the 2002 NASA Contact Conference, which focused on serious speculation about extraterrestrials. During the meeting a concerned participant said loudly in a sinister tone, "You have absolutely no idea what is out there!" The silence was palpable as the truth of this statement sunk in. Humans are fearful of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. Perhaps fortunately, the distances between the stars are prohibitively vast. At least this is what we novices, who are just learning to travel into space, tell ourselves.

I have always been interested in UFOs. Of course, there was the excitement that there could be aliens and other living worlds. But more exciting to me was the possibility that interstellar travel was technologically achievable. In 1988, during my second week of graduate school at Montana State University, several students and I were discussing a recent cattle mutilation that was associated with UFOs. A physics professor joined the conversation and told us that he had colleagues working at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, where they were having problems with UFOs shutting down nuclear missiles. At the time I thought this professor was talking nonsense. But 20 years later, I was stunned to see a recording of a press conference featuring several former US Air Force personnel, with a couple from Malmstrom AFB, describing similar occurrences in the 1960s. Clearly there must be something to this.

With July 2 being World UFO Day, it is a good time for society to address the unsettling and refreshing fact we may not be alone. I believe we need to face the possibility that some of the strange flying objects that outperform the best aircraft in our inventory and defy explanation may indeed be visitors from afar – and there's plenty of evidence to support UFO sightings.

The Fermi paradox

The nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi was famous for posing thought provoking questions. In 1950, at Los Alamos National Laboratory after discussing UFOs over lunch, Fermi asked, "Where is everybody?" He estimated there were about 300 billion stars in the galaxy, many of them billions of years older than the sun, with a large percentage of them likely to host habitable planets. Even if intelligent life developed on a very small percentage of these planets, then there should be a number of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy. Depending on the assumptions, one should expect anywhere from tens to tens of thousands of civilizations.

With the rocket-based technologies that we have developed for space travel, it would take between 5 and 50 million years for a civilization like ours to colonize our Milky Way galaxy. Since this should have happened several times already in the history of our galaxy, one should wonder where is the evidence of these civilizations? This discrepancy between the expectation that there should be evidence of alien civilizations or visitations and the presumption that no visitations have been observed has been dubbed the Fermi Paradox.

Carl Sagan correctly summarized the situation by saying that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." The problem is that there has been no single well-documented UFO encounter that would alone qualify as the smoking gun. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many governments around the world have covered up and classified information about such encounters. But there are enough scraps of evidence that suggest that the problem needs to be open to scientific study.

UFOs, taboo for professional scientists

When it comes to science, the scientific method requires hypotheses to be testable so that inferences can be verified. UFO encounters are neither controllable nor repeatable, which makes their study extremely challenging. But the real problem, in my view, is that the UFO topic is taboo.

While the general public has been fascinated with UFOs for decades, our governments, scientists and media, have essentially declared that of all the UFO sightings are a result of weather phenomenon or human actions. None are actually extraterrestrial spacecraft. And no aliens have visited Earth. Essentially, we are told that the topic is nonsense. UFOs are off-limits to serious scientific study and rational discussion, which unfortunately leaves the topic in the domain of fringe and pseudoscientists, many of whom litter the field with conspiracy theories and wild speculation.

I think UFO skepticism has become something of a religion with an agenda, discounting the possibility of extraterrestrials without scientific evidence, while often providing silly hypotheses describing only one or two aspects of a UFO encounter reinforcing the popular belief that there is a conspiracy. A scientist must consider all of the possible hypotheses that explain all of the data, and since little is known, the extraterrestrial hypothesis cannot yet be ruled out. In the end, the skeptics often do science a disservice by providing a poor example of how science is to be conducted. The fact is that many of these encounters – still a very small percentage of the total – defy conventional explanation.

Are we alone? The question is worthy of serious scientific study
This photograph was taken in Wallonia, Belgium. Credit: J.S. Henrardi

The media amplifies the skepticism by publishing information about UFOs when it is exciting, but always with a mocking or whimsical tone and reassuring the public that it can't possibly be true. But there are credible witnesses and encounters.

Why don't astronomers see UFOs?

I am often asked by friends and colleagues, "Why don't astronomers see UFOs?" The fact is that they do. In 1977, Peter Sturrock, a professor of space science and astrophysics at Stanford University, mailed 2,611 questionnaires about UFO sightings to members of the American Astronomical Society. He received 1,356 responses from which 62 astronomers – 4.6 percent – reported witnessing or recording inexplicable aerial phenomena. This rate is similar to the approximately 5 percent of UFO sightings that are never explained.

As expected, Sturrock found that astronomers who witnessed UFOs were more likely to be night sky observers. Over 80 percent of Sturrock's respondents were willing to study the UFO phenomenon if there was a way to do so. More than half of them felt that the topic deserves to be studied versus 20 percent who felt that it should not. The survey also revealed that younger scientists were more likely to support the study of UFOs.

UFOs have been observed through telescopes. I know of one telescope sighting by an experienced amateur astronomer in which he observed an object shaped like a guitar pick moving through the telescope's field of view. Further sightings are documented in the book "Wonders in the Sky," in which the authors compile numerous observations of unexplained aerial phenomena made by astronomers and published in scientific journals throughout the 1700s and 1800s.

Evidence from government and military officers

Some of the most convincing observations have come from government officials. In 1997, the Chilean government formed the organization Comité de Estudios de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos, or CEFAA, to study UFOs. Last year, CEFAA released footage of a UFO taken with a helicopter-mounted Wescam infrared camera.

The countries of Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, France, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom have been declassifying their UFO files since 2008. The French Committee for In-Depth Studies, or COMETA, was an unofficial UFO study group comprised of high-ranking scientists and military officials that studied UFOs in the late 1990s. They released the COMETA Report, which summarized their findings. They concluded that 5 percent of the encounters were reliable yet inexplicable: The best hypothesis available was that the observed craft were extraterrestrial. They also accused the United States of covering up evidence of UFOs. Iran has been concerned about spherical UFOs observed near nuclear power facilities that they call "CIA drones" which reportedly are about 30 feet in diameter, can achieve speeds up to Mach 10, and can leave the atmosphere. Such speeds are on par with the fastest experimental aircraft, but unthinkable for a sphere without lift surfaces or an obvious propulsion mechanism.

In December 2017, The New York Times broke a story about the classified Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, which was a $22 million program run by the former Pentagon official Luis Elizondo and aimed at studying UFOs. Elizondo resigned from running the program protesting extreme secrecy and the lack of funding and support. Following his resignation Elizondo, along with several others from the defense and intelligence community, were recruited by the To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science, which was recently founded by Tom DeLonge to study UFOs and interstellar travel. In conjunction with the launch of the academy, the Pentagon declassified and released three videos of UFO encounters taken with forward looking infrared cameras mounted on F-18 fighter jets. While there is much excitement about such disclosures, I am reminded of a quote from Retired Army Colonel John Alexander: "Disclosure has happened. … I've got stacks of generals, including Soviet generals, who've come out and said UFOs are real. My point is, how many times do senior officials need to come forward and say that this is real?"

A topic worthy of serious study

There is a great deal of evidence that a small percentage of these UFO sightings are unidentified structured craft exhibiting flight capabilities beyond any known human technology. While there is no single case for which there exists evidence that would stand up to scientific rigor, there are cases with simultaneous observations by multiple reliable witnesses, along with radar returns and photographic evidence revealing patterns of activity that are compelling.

Declassified information from covert studies is interesting, but not scientifically helpful. This is a topic worthy of open scientific inquiry, until there is a scientific consensus based on rather than prior expectation or belief. If there are indeed extraterrestrial craft visiting Earth, it would greatly benefit us to know about them, their nature and their intent. Moreover, this would present a great opportunity for mankind, promising to expand and advance our knowledge and technology, as well as reshaping our understanding of our place in the universe.


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Jun 28, 2018
Among other things, again the distressing reliance of the Sagan bromide about "extraordinary proofs". Note, for example, for all that "scientists" point to it, it does not have what "scientists" call "rigor".
What does an "extraordinary" claim mean? Out of the ordinary? A new species of daffodil would be that. But is that as epoch making as "extraordinary" is taken to mean? And what of "extraordinary" proof? There's only one definition of proof in logic in this reality. In the 1400's a new continent would be an "extraordinary" claim, but its proof is just seeing a new coastline and walking across the land. Seeing and walking are not considered "extraordinary" in terms of proof techniques.
Basically, it's self referential. The "scientists" say a claim is "extraordinary" if the proof is "extraordinary" and they declare the proof "extraordinary" if applied to an "extraordinary" claim.

Jun 28, 2018
Are you saying the US Government is powerful enough to hide the existence of alien visitors that want to be found?

If that's so, are you suicidal? Because you're putting yourself in opposition of this incredibly powerful force.

Jun 28, 2018
Julian the religionist writes a long post explaining his disdain for evidence. But we already know that faith is belief despite evidence.
Are you saying the US Government is powerful enough to hide the existence of alien visitors that want to be found?
If the govt knows about them then they have already been found. Mission accomplished.

Jun 28, 2018
"Lies, Damn Lies and Stupid Drunken Lies" are all I have ever heard from the "True Believers"!

How's that saying go? "You take a bowl of the purest honey and mix in a dab of shit? You now have a bowl of shit!"

The 'Believers' can rationalize it all they want but delusion, even mass delusion, is never the truth.

Jun 29, 2018
Eschew ad-hockery. If it ain't falsifiable then it is non-science. Read and understand Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery and then Edwin T. Jaynes' Probability Theory: The Logic of Science.

The proper naive prior probability maximizes its entropy to avoid falsifying the state of knowledge. The honest naive prior is I Do Not Know.

Jun 29, 2018
If the govt knows about them then they have already been found. Mission accomplished
Only the alien jesus revealed himself to the people before approaching their leaders. And we see how that turned out.

Perhaps if he had chosen the latter he would still be with us today.

Jun 29, 2018
Meh. The physics we know (and we know a lot) says you can't travel between stars in a lifetime. But that's not to say there isn't a way we haven't discovered yet.

For a guided missile cruiser with AEGIS radar and two F/A-18 pilots to see stuff like this is pretty astonishing; I refer of course to the so-called "Nimitz incident." The FLIR pictures are pretty convincing, and so is the fact that the aircraft was detected by the AEGIS system. What the pilots saw is open to interpretation, but what the AEGIS system saw isn't. The FLIR data have not been rigorously analyzed, and may no longer exist. Certainly they haven't been publicly analyzed. The idea that both the FLIR pod and the AEGIS system could have malfunctioned in such a way as to appear to show an aircraft at the same place at the same time is little short of ludicrous. Add in pilot sightings by experienced pilots and it's clear this is not the explanation.
[contd]

Jun 29, 2018
[contd]
So is this proof? No. But it shaves down the possibilities to two, in my view:
1. An unknown natural phenomenon.
2. Alien visitors.

There sure isn't any aircraft built on Earth that can go from 80,000 feet to 50 feet in a matter of seconds and then hover. 80,000 feet is 15 miles. Even a jet aircraft isn't fast enough to do that. That's something on the close order of 10,000 mph. About Mach 13 or so. Nothing we make goes that fast in the atmosphere and it certainly doesn't hover after it did it.

That's probably the most credible "UFO incident" on record.

Jun 29, 2018
So is this "proof of UFOs?" No. We don't have all the data. Details of the processing in the AN/SPY-1 radar system are closely held to avoid giving clues to its operation that might enable electronic warfare against it. The FLIR data dumps have never been released. Without this instrumental data, there is no way to be sure. And as with most "UFO incidents" testimony, even of experienced personnel, has limited value, and that's most of what we've got other than videos from the FLIR output that really don't prove anything. In another 20 years we might see all the data, if it still exists. Then we can start analyzing it. For now, we have only anecdotal information which is always questionable.

Jun 29, 2018
Meh. The physics we know (and we know a lot) says you can't travel between stars in a lifetime
No, YOU dont know a lot.

"From the planetary frame of reference, the ship's speed will appear to be limited by the speed of light—it can approach the speed of light, but never reach it. If a ship is using 1 g constant acceleration, it will appear to get near the speed of light in about a year, and have traveled about half a light year in distance. For the middle of the journey the ship's speed will be roughly the speed of light, and it will slow down again to zero over a year at the end of the journey.

"As a rule of thumb, for a constant acceleration at one g (Earth gravity), the ship journey time will be the distance in light years to the destination, plus one year."

Jun 29, 2018
otto ol'buddy. Do you have the math available for all us ignoramuses to admire? That explains the technology we would need to develop. That in this universe of dull boring mundane reality, is expected to propel anything at one gee across trillions of kilometers, safely?

Or, are you reading out of one of your comicbooks again?

Jun 29, 2018
"On the other hand, if we are not alone and there is someone or something more powerful out there, that too is terrifying."

For now, we have only anecdotal information which is always questionable
.........and what will be the most "terrifying" event that happens is if Schneibo is the first human they meet, yeah, the pop-cosmology expert here who thinks a proton & an electron combine to form neutrons instead of hydrogen.

Jun 29, 2018
@TheGOO is reading out of comic books again. The problem is fuel.

As usual, where's the beef?

Jun 29, 2018
@TheGOO is reading out of comic books again. The problem is fuel.

As usual, where's the beef?


Better question, where are the neutrons when an electron meets a proton & combines to form SOMETHING you think is not hydrogen.

Jun 30, 2018
Based on the preponderance of different species here on Earth, the safest assumption of all is that life is just as common and diverse elsewhere. Forget about the Drake equation and the Fermi paradox, the gaping problem with both of them is that neither acknowledges even the slightest possibility that we're being visited by intelligent life forms now and may have in the past as well.

The government has studied UFOs extensively, they've said they're real and not a threat, they've captured them on radar and on video, the one thing they haven't done is disclose everything they know about the subject, ostensibly to protect us, religions, etc. from panicking even though most of the planet is quite comfortable with the concept of actual alien life. The reason is obvious, their power resides in the belief that they control our airspace, they can't possibly admit that they don't. If Drake/Fermi factored UFOs into their work, what would their equations look like?

RNP
Jun 30, 2018
@Benni
Better question, where are the neutrons when an electron meets a proton & combines to form SOMETHING you think is not hydrogen.


https://en.wikipe..._capture

It's called `electron capture` and is a well know nuclear reaction.

Jun 30, 2018
TheGOO is reading out of comic books again. The problem is fuel
Muschimann also dont know the difference between technology and physics. Irrespective of tech problems, physics dictates acceleration, distance, time, etc. There are propulsion methods which dont require propellant.
https://www.scien...n-3-days

There are also several calculator websites for planning your own trip to the stars.

Jun 30, 2018
It's called `electron capture` and is a well know nuclear reaction.
.......hey mister Pop-Cosmology expert & freelance journalist now claiming to be an expert in nuclear physics, you need to learn something about about electron capture, it is extraordinarily RARE, you read too much WikiPedia as your go to source, but of course that's as far your educational background in journalism permits you to go.

A captured electron belongs to the group of electrons orbiting around the nucleus. Such captures are difficult.

Most of the electrons orbit the nucleus at distances large compared to the nucleus. Even the innermost electron K-layer electrons are so distant from the very small volume of the nucleus where the weak forces responsible for ELECTRON capture & transforming the electron into a neutrino. This explains why electron capture is difficult and therefore rare, your Wiki source forgot to explain this which is why you don't know this.

Jun 30, 2018
Sorry benni if you're trying to troll me, you've been on ignore for decades now.

Yo ho smellya later-

RNP
Jun 30, 2018
@Benni
.......hey mister Pop-Cosmology expert & freelance journalist now claiming to be an expert in nuclear physics,
you need to learn something about about electron capture, it is extraordinarily RARE,.....


Sure! You are rightI It is, in general, rare. But it is NOT rare in the extreme pressure/temperature conditions such as those present during the formation of a neutron star. Indeed, it is essentially the process that finally stops the collapse. You need to learn something about nuclear physics in such extreme environments.

Jun 30, 2018

Sure! You are rightI It is, in general, rare.
....and you didn't know this until I informed you of it, mister expert in Pop-Cosmology.

You need to learn something about nuclear physics in such extreme environments.


Hey, mister freelance journalist, the most extreme environment that exists in the entire UNIVERSE is located right here on planet Earth, it's called the Large Hadron Collider, 7 trillion degrees versus the paltry 2-3 trillion degrees when stars go supernovae & blow so much beyond the reach of GRAVITATIONAL COLLAPSE that most of that mass is irrecoverable & therefore beyond YOUR so-called "extreme environments".You didn't know this abut the LHC, I did because we use data for which the source is the LHC.

............ just pop-cosmology continuing it's never ending meandering pathway with you because you've never taken even so much as a first semester college physics course.

RNP
Jun 30, 2018
@Benni
Hey, mister freelance journalist, the most extreme environment that exists in the entire UNIVERSE is located right here on planet Earth, it's called the Large Hadron Collider, 7 trillion degrees versus the paltry 2-3 trillion degrees when stars go supernovae & blow so much beyond the reach of GRAVITATIONAL COLLAPSE that most of that mass is irrecoverable & therefore beyond YOUR so-called "extreme environments".You didn't know this abut the LHC, I did because we use data for which the source is the LHC.

............ just pop-cosmology continuing it's never ending meandering pathway with you because you've never taken even so much as a first semester college physics course.


I love it!!!! This ludicrous rant clearly shows that you do not understand the first thing about anything related to astrophysics or nuclear physics.

Keep it coming Benni. Every word you post makes you look more ridiculous,


Jun 30, 2018
Keep it coming Benni. Every word you post makes you look more ridiculous,


If I don't "keep it coming", you would never otherwise learn anything. Novice pop-cosmologists like you are of great entertainment value for me.

As for your inability to read the Periodic Table & discover for the first time in your life that an electron + proton=> hydrogen and not a neutron, must indeed be a mind shattering experience. At least take a high school chemistry course before the next time you come here & try giving this Nuclear/Electrical Engineer a dissertation in chemistry or nuclear physics while trying to explain what happens in the courses of events that must occur to create ELECTRON CAPTURE.

RNP
Jun 30, 2018
@Benni
Thank you. You have kept the nonsense coming as requested. I am still laughing. Got any more for us?

Jun 30, 2018
@Benni
Thank you. You have kept the nonsense coming as requested. I am still laughing. Got any more for us?


Oh, you're welcome. Pleased I could be of assistance in furthering your educational aspirations in chemistry & nuclear physics in spite of the roadblocks that Pop-Cosmology has caused you to becomes so mired in.

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