The Men in Black have been busy. Maybe. If they exist.
At some point in our culture, unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, became synonymous with extraterrestrials. Dozens of films depict disc-shaped alien spaceships visiting Earth to wreak havoc on our peaceful suburban neighborhoods. So when I hear UFO, I have a tendency to assume it is a craft filled with alien beings arriving from a foreign galaxy.
It doesn’t help that government entities were (and sometimes still are) tight lipped about UFOs — the secrecy seemed to fuel conspiracy theories that aliens and their spacecrafts are being hidden by the government in Area 51.
Over Super Bowl weekend, multiple unidentified objects were spotted, and some them shot down, across North America, reported the Deseret News. There are numerous questions connected with the incident, but it begs the question — are UFOs real? And what do we know about UFOs?
Upcoming congressional hearing on UFOs
Three former U.S. military officers who claim they have top-secret information on UFOs will testify to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Christopher Mellon, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, believes the hearing will provide transparency about unidentified aerial phenomena, more commonly known as UFOs.
One of the witnesses is David Grusch, a former U.S. intelligence official who fueled UFO-conversations this spring when he claimed that the government is in possession of “intact and partially intact craft of non-human origin,” per The Debrief.
“I expect Dave will provide some new information that we have not heard before,” Mellon said Monday on “CUOMO.”
Several government officials, such as Marco Rubio, have backed Grusch’s claims that the government is hiding intelligence about UFOs and are asking for more transparency.
“I just want some transparency. I think everybody should be asking for that,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), the driving force behind the hearing, told the Los Angeles Times last week. “If there aren’t any UFOs, then why’s the federal government spending so much time and effort to stop any kind of hearings, and why don’t they release these files that they have? Every file I’ve seen is so redacted it looks like a piece of Swiss cheese.”
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., echoed Burchett’s desire for more government transparency regarding UFO intelligence.
“It is really about getting to greater government transparency,” said Moskowitz, per Fox News. “If the answers are, ‘No, there are no unidentified aerial phenomena,’ then say that. But that’s not what the answers are. The answers are, ‘We can’t tell you.’ And so that leads to speculation.”
In addition to UFO whistleblower David Grusch, Ryan Graves, executive director of Americans for Safe Aerospace and Cmdr. David Fravor, former Navy aviator known for shooting the well-known “Tic-Tac UFO Incident” will also share witness statements during the hearing, reports Fox News.
A brief history of UFOs
During the summer of 1947, a rancher in New Mexico reported finding a “flying disk” on his property northwest of Roswell Army Air Field, per The Washington Post. The next day, a public information officer at the Army base released a news statement revealing that the U.S. Army Air Forces recovered a “flying disk” from the man’s ranch — and it sparked a cultural phenomenon.
Conspiracy theories began circling about the Roswell incident and other reported UFO sightings. Some said alien bodies had been recovered from the New Mexico ranch and that it had all been covered up by some secretive government order, and others were skeptical when the man who tried to investigate the Roswell incident, Steven Schiff, died of cancer, per The New Yorker.
As a culture, we’ve been fascinated by aliens and the possibility of being discovered by a foreign galaxy for decades. Movies and television like “Alien,” “The X-Files,” “Men in Black,” and “E.T.” pay tribute to our alien obsession and spark further questions about what we really know about extraterrestrial life.
A timeline of the most well-known UFO sightings
Since the Roswell incident, UFO sightings have grown increasingly common.
In 1947, around the same time as the Roswell incident, Idaho Pilot Kenneth Arnold spotted nine “circular-type” objects flying in formation faster than the speed of sound near Mount Rainer in Washington. Arnold stood by his UFO story until he died in 1977.
“I made my report because I thought it was my duty. It was the only proper and American thing to do. I saw what I saw,” Arnold told The Seattle Times.
Near the end of December 1980, U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, England, reported seeing strange lights near the Rendlesham Forest and an object traveling thousands of miles per hour, per the BBC. The incident is sometimes referred to as “Britain’s Roswell.”
In 2006, U.S. Navy pilot Cmdr. David Fravor witnessed what is known as the “Tic-Tac UFO Incident.” Fravor says he says he saw “something not from this earth” while commanding U.S. Navy strike fighter squadron during exercises off the California coast, per Newsweek.
The U.S.S. Princeton, a Navy cruiser, began tracking the aircraft and saw that it would suddenly appear at 80,000 feet, plunge to 20,000 feet, then hover above the ocean, reports The New York Times.
“It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Favor recalled, per the Times. He said the experience made him feel “pretty weirded out.”
A video taken in 2013 at the Rafael Hernandez Airport runway in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico captured a uniquely-shaped aircraft soaring across the sky at rapid speeds with no lights. The object gave no warning signals, and caused a commercial flight to be delayed, per Newsweek.
What is a UFO?
A UFO, which stands for unidentified flying object, looks or moves unlike aircrafts used by the U.S. or other countries. We know that not all unidentified objects in the sky are of “extra-terrestrial” origin. They could be anything — roughly half of UFO sightings might have been balloons, drones or “clutter,” according to the latest report on UFOs from the Director of National Intelligence.
Former director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe described what UFO sightings mean to him.
“When we talk about sightings,” Ratcliffe said, per The New Yorker, “we are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for, or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom.”
What do we know about UFOs?
In 2021, the Pentagon released UFO videos and documents, per The New York Times. But the release of information probably sparked more questions than it answered. There is a lot we still do not know, but here is what we do know.
Are UFOs real?
Yes. UFOs are real. The U.S. government does not deny the reality of UFOs and has studied them for decades. But the government has not confirmed any knowledge regarding extra terrestrial activity, according to The Washington Post.
In 2017, the Pentagon confirmed the existence of a program called the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program and that it began in 2007 for the purpose of studying “anomalous aerospace threats,” per The Washington Post. The Pentagon spent at least $22 million on the program, but cut funding in 2012.
“It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding and it was in the best interest of the DOD to make a change,” Pentagon spokesman Tom Crosson explained in a statement, per The Washington Post.
The U.S. reports there are hundreds of UFO sightings but still cannot explain the mystery behind several of these events, according to The New York Times.
What did the Pentagon UFO report reveal?
According to the most recent UFO report from the Director of National Intelligence, released in January 2023, there were 366 newly identified reports. Out of the 366 reports cited, 26 were characterized as drones, 163 were characterized as balloons or balloon-like objects and 6 were “attributed to clutter.” The remaining 171 reported objects “demonstrated unusual flight characteristics or performance capabilities” and are undergoing further analysis. Many of the reported sightings lack enough detail or data to be properly characterized.
The Pentagon UFO report also revealed that the majority of reported UFO sightings were given by U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force aviators and operators who witnessed UFOs while performing their operational duties.
One thing to note is that the U.S. has been taking UFO sightings more seriously in recent years. In 2022, Congress asked Americans to report UFO sightings.
“Since the early ’00s we have seen an increasing number of unauthorized and or unidentified aircraft or objects in military-controlled training areas and training ranges and other designated airspace,” said Scott Bray, deputy director of naval intelligence, per Deseret News. “If you see something, you need to report it.”
What we don’t know about UFOs
There is a lot we do not know about UFOs — or at least a lot the government hasn’t been forthcoming about. But it seems like UFOs are as much of a mystery to the government as they are to us. And they haven’t ruled out the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
Former CIA director John Brennan admitted to his own lack of knowledge regarding UFOs during an interview with economist Tyler Cowen.
“Some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life” said Brennan, per The New Yorker.
Former President Barack Obama also spoke about his own bewilderment with UFOs during an interview with James Corden in 2021.
“What is true, and I’m actually being serious here, is that there are, there’s footage and records of objects in the skies, that we don’t know exactly what they are,” Obama said, per the BBC, “We can’t explain how they moved, their trajectory. ... And so, you know, I think that people still take seriously trying to investigate and figure out what that is.”