The UFO/UAP story will never die

The US government has released its much awaited (by UFO enthusiasts at least) report on what it calls Unidentified Aerial Phenomena and it is just what you might expect.

The mystery of UFOs seen in American skies is likely to continue following the release of the US government’s highly anticipated UFO report.

The report released on Friday afternoon made clear that while American intelligence officials do not believe aliens are behind the UFOs – or what scientists prefer to call unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) – that were observed by navy pilots, they cannot explain what the flying objects are.

The report confirms that the observed phenomena are not part of any US military operations.

The Pentagon studied over 140 incidents reported by navy pilots of UAP seen over the last two decades for the report. Many were seen from the summer of 2014 into the spring of 2015.

While the report said that some incidents could be the result of technological errors in sensors or observers, it noted that most of the UAP reported “probably do represent physical objects” since they were registered across multiple sensors.

The only UAP intelligence officials were able to identify “with high confidence” turned out to be “a large, deflating balloon”.

“The others remain unexplained,” the report reads.

There are two things to keep in mind. (1) There are always unexplained phenomena. (2) One can never rule out a favored hypothesis for any unexplained phenomena. Those two will ensure that people who believe that extraterrestrials are, for some reason, choosing to buzz around us without making contact will never run out of reasons to believe.

I for one am going to wait until one of them unambiguously contacts us before getting all excited.


  1. says

    There are unidentified things all the time, like which car honked its horn on the street. Nobody assumes a car horn came from a space ship with little green men, yet a flashing light moving overhead in the sky will make the ignorant and wilfully gullible say “aliens!” instead of airplane.

    I have never understood people who *want* something farfetched to be the answer instead of looking for or guessing a realistic and plausible one.

  2. Holms says

    The explanation with the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one. So, either a camera artefact… or aliens. Real difficult choice.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Holms @2:

    The explanation with the fewest assumptions is most likely the correct one.

    Occam’s Razor requires actual competing hypotheses, and sometimes there are none.

    So, either a camera artefact… or aliens.

    Those are the only two possible explanations? Well, if some phenomena were “registered across multiple sensors”, that would rule out camera artefacts, so I can only conclude you believe they are aliens.

    You realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “we don’t know”, right?

  4. Holms says

    Those are the only two possible explanations?

    No, but those are two explanations that are more or less at each extreme when it comes to assumptions required.

    You realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying “we don’t know”, right?

    You realise I wasn’t trying to explain the entire lot as either artefacts or aliens, right?

  5. consciousness razor says

    Here’s the actual document, which is pretty underwhelming: Preliminary Assessment: Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (PDF, 9 pages)

    144 reports originated from USG sources. Of these, 80 reports involved observation with multiple sensors.
    In 18 incidents, described in 21 reports, observers reported unusual UAP movement patterns or flight characteristics.

    Some UAP appeared to remain stationary in winds aloft, move against the wind, maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion. In a small number of cases, military aircraft systems processed radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings.

    The UAPTF holds a small amount of data that appear to show UAP demonstrating acceleration or a degree of signature management. Additional rigorous analysis are necessary by multiple teams or groups of technical experts to determine the nature and validity of these data. We are conducting further analysis to determine if breakthrough technologies were demonstrated.

    It doesn’t look like there’s much overlap between the 80 multiple-sensor reports (regarding some undisclosed number of incidents) and the 21 reports (regarding 18 incidents) which are not merely “unidentified” according to them but represent things that at least appear to be “unusual.”

    I guess “radio frequency (RF) energy associated with UAP sightings” does suggest a combination of radio and (probably) visual/optical. But “a small number of cases” is vague, and they don’t offer any other details about these incidents. So this is all rather useless.

  6. Bruce says

    Throughout history, some people thought they saw things. Before WWII, they mostly thought fairies.
    With the advent of rockets, and of Buck Rodgers fiction, people thought more of aliens.
    Seeing something unclear, and then guessing something fashionable, can’t be evidence.
    While there are dozens or hundreds of things that were not seen clearly and unidentified, we should focus on the millions of things in the world that have been seen clearly enough to identify.
    None of which were aliens.
    Statistical sampling for the win.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    Bruce @8:

    Throughout history, some people thought they saw things

    Ah, they only thought they saw things. This is the flip side of the aliens bullshit; “nothing to see here!”.

    As I see it, it’s related to other so-called skeptical responses to claims of fringe or theist groups. So, when ID twits appeal to fine tuning, some antitheists feel obliged to manufacture an argument that there is no fine tuning. When theists present the First Cause argument, some antitheists feel obliged to re-label probabilistic events (like particle decays) as “acausal”. It’s stupid, and embarrassing. It’s simply not necessary, and it takes us down to the same level as the twits.

    There are things people have seen that neither they, nor we, can explain. So what? The history of science is full of stuff like that. Just because some idiot says “aliens”, or “god”, doesn’t mean we have to come up with shallow responses as stupid as their claims.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    Since these show up so often near military installations, I continue to think that the most likely explanation is Chinese and/or Russian spy drones.
    The likelihood that we are sending the same type of objects to spy on them would explain why they haven’t come out publicly with that theory.

  9. consciousness razor says

    Since these show up so often near military installations, I continue to think that the most likely explanation is Chinese and/or Russian spy drones.

    Availability bias to the rescue…. The report itself mentions this:

    UAP sightings also tended to cluster around U.S. training and testing grounds, but we assess that this may result from a collection bias as a result of focused attention, greater numbers of latest-generation sensors operating in those areas, unit expectations, and guidance to report anomalies.

    We’re talking about the non-classified portion of a US intelligence report which is derived from information reported by military sources, not just any arbitrary type of source. They could, for instance, have gathered reports from people who were purchasing booze at the time, and in that case, it’s to be expected that many of the alleged sightings would be relatively close to the liquor stores where these people were shopping.

  10. John Morales says

    Suggestive how it went from flying saucers to UFOs to UAPs.

    (Ever more vague)

  11. consciousness razor says


    Since these show up so often

    It’s not “so often.” They said these incidents happened from 2004-2021. Given the very low number of incidents and our very large and global military presence throughout that entire time period, that doesn’t sound frequent at all to me.

    And as I said before, the vast majority of those did not seem to be doing anything unusual, something that would actually motivate a special explanation that needs to fit with an unusual phenomenon. They’re merely unidentified, which could be practically anything, and it’s not suggestive of something especially sophisticated or nefarious like a spy program or whatever.

    I think this story is mainly about some people (people who want aliens or wars or whatever) trying to make something out of nothing.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @14: How exactly do you “learn” that? Can you provide an example? Are German military cameras demonstrably better?

  13. Matt G says

    I, for one, am shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- that this report was not conclusive one way or the other.

    I don’t understand why the likelihood of advanced aliens living close enough to visit isn’t a bigger deal. Why would someone out there in the vast universe want to explore an utterly insignificant blue-green planet in the unfashionable part of the galaxy?

  14. Holms says

    #6 Rob
    Reading is more than passively having words pushed into your head. Exercise some thought.

  15. Dunc says

    The report confirms that the observed phenomena are not part of any US military operations.

    And of course the US military would never lie about such a thing. Perish the thought!

  16. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#16:
    How exactly do you “learn” that?

    Look at the resolution of the videos. They’re low-resolution and not focused. The contrast is whacked and they are monochrome. I have a $400 DJI camera that produces better quality (and has better tracking and a smoother gimbal) -- so, yeah, unless you want to hypothesize that the military ran the source media through a “1970s” filter?

    It seems pretty reasonable to conclude: these videos show unidentifiable things because the videos are so bad it’s hard to identify what’s in them, maybe that’s the problem.

    The integrated camera in an iPhone 10 blows that stuff away. So yeah we might have “learned” that. Stupid question, really.

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @20: The videos are infrared imagery. Do your cameras and iPhones have that?

  18. consciousness razor says

    The videos are infrared imagery. Do your cameras and iPhones have that?

    Possibly. (I know nothing about them. Here’s a Wired review of one from 2014.) Low resolution (mitigated somewhat by the MSX blending technology) and low frame rate, but it’s not nothing.

    On the other hand, iPhones aren’t cheap either. So there is also that.

    Again from the report:

    The sensors mounted on U.S. military platforms are typically designed to fulfill specific missions. As a result, those sensors are not generally suited for identifying UAP.

    Think of radar or a targeting system, for instance. They’re not designed for producing crisp, clear images or video, but for tracking a target, locking onto it, and generally for helping you to blow it up.


    It’s also a big issue that, in a jet, you may be moving and turning very fast, with the camera itself also rotating (and zooming in/out) wildly to stay on the thing you’re trying to look at. So, getting an accurate sense of its size, distance, speed, etc., is not the straightforward process it usually is when you imagine taking a picture with a camera in ordinary circumstances. It’s hard to imagine people (especially in the military) actually have trouble understanding this stuff, but I think some UFO fans are just not doing much more than consuming the “news” stories and taking whatever is presented at face value.

    Anyway, it’s not as if you’re standing still, with a camera pointed in the same direction the whole time, while some known object at a known distance is moving across the frame. (A car passing on a nearby road, let’s say.) In that case, it’s not hard to figure out roughly how fast (or in which direction) it’s moving relative to you. But since we can’t actually rely on that very familiar kind of situation when trying to make sense of basically any of the UAP footage that’s been released, it’s just silly to point out that the thing seems to be moving in some anomalous way (or in a way you can’t easily identify). Of course it is — because you are and so is your camera.

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @22:

    They’re not designed for producing crisp, clear images or video, but for tracking a target…

    Right, that was my point. Infrared images have poor resolution compared to visible spectrum images because of the longer wavelengths.

  20. steve oberski says

    Strange that we have yet to see in focus, crisp, clear, 4K, 60 frames per second videos of this sort of phenomenon despite the fact that literally billions of people carry devices with these capabilities.

  21. steve oberski says

    Bruce @8:

    Throughout history, some people thought they saw things

    Similar to near death experiences, which are influenced by pre-existing religious and cultural beliefs.

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