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On eve of World UFO Day on Saturday, Anadolu Agency takes a look at UFOs and the newfound interest of scientists in the phenomena

On June 24, 1947, a sunny morning with clear blue skies, amateur pilot Kenneth Arnold was flying his plane over Mount Rainier in Lewis County in the US state of Washington.

To his surprise, he saw nine bright blue-white objects flying in a “V” formation. He compared their motion to “a saucer if you skip it across the water” and estimated their speed at 1,700 miles (2,735 kilometers) per hour.

Within days of the publication of Arnold’s report, at least 20 people from more than a dozen widely separated locations said they had seen similar objects.

A wave of similar sightings coincided with the emergence of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Dubbed unidentified flying objects (UFOs), they were attributed to extraterrestrial objects, spirits, angels, phantoms, ghosts, or other supernatural phenomena.

Seventy-five years later, the phenomenon, which has remained largely unexplained with a degree of skepticism and denial from the mainstream scientific community, has found takers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The US federal government agency recently announced the commissioning of a panel to investigate unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that include UFOs.

“The study will focus on identifying available data, how to best collect future data, and how NASA can use these data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., told reporters on June 9.

Defending such a study, which will begin later this year at a cost of $100,000, the NASA official said the agency’s research priorities cover the hunt for alien life, investigating mysterious cosmic objects and phenomena, and helping to keep American aircraft safe and secure.

In 2021, the Pentagon announced the formation of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group, a new intelligence group to investigate unidentified objects that may compromise US airspace.

Unusual movement patterns

This was formed soon after a report by the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), a program within the United States Office of Naval Intelligence, which said it was unable to identify 143 objects spotted between 2004 and 2021 in US airspace. The report said that 18 of these featured unusual movement patterns or flight characteristics.

The report, delivered to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees with a classified annexure, said some of the objects had released radio frequency energy that was picked up and processed by US military aircraft. It recommended that the phenomena needed more analysis to determine whether those sightings represented “breakthrough technology.”

“We have no clear indications that there is any extraterrestrial explanation for them — but we will go wherever the data takes us,” said the report.

Earlier, the US Department of Defense had set up multiple UAP-studying projects to understand the phenomena for national security purposes. The earliest ones — Project Sign and Project Grudge — were commissioned in the 1940s and 50s to collect and evaluate UFO data and alleviate public anxiety.

But after years of research, they had recommended to the National Security Council to debunk UFO reports and institute a policy of public education to reassure people of the lack of evidence behind such sightings.

Since then, the space agencies as well as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the US spy agency, which was separately investigating the phenomenon, had put the entire issue on the back burner.

But the newfound interest of NASA and the Pentagon in investigating UFOs has renewed interest in these unexplained sightings.

Michael Wall, a senior space writer with Space.com, believes that NASA’s interest in UFOs in 2022 means there has been an attempt to make this data-poor field worthy of scientific investigation and analysis to demystify UAPs.

According to Meghan Bartels, another senior writer at Space.com, scientists may have detected radio emissions from a planet orbiting a star beyond our sun for the first time. She said the astronomers behind the new research had used a radio telescope in the Netherlands to study three different stars known to host exoplanets – planets that orbit around other stars.

Confronting mankind

Author Ted Bloecher, who in the mid-60s compiled a detailed chronology of more than 850 sightings in 90 cities in the US and Canada, said he was convinced that far from being a nonsense problem, the UFO problem is perhaps the outstanding scientific problem confronting mankind.

“I believe we must radically reorient scientific attitudes towards this steadily-growing body of UFO reports and that we must enlist the aid of really top-notch scientific talent in the difficult task of bringing ultimate order out of the chaos into which 20 years of ridicule have brought the subject,” he noted in his book Report on the UFO Wave of 1947.

He mentioned the case of Dr. M.K. Leisy, a junior intern at the Pennsylvania Hospital for Mental Diseases in Philadelphia, who saw a dark, spherical object with a luminous halo around it flying below the clouds at a moderate speed. A check with various agencies disclosed that no balloons had been released over that area at the time, nor was it possible to confuse the object with any other known flying object.

Cultural phenomenon

According to Bloecher, based on various eyewitness accounts, the UFOs were mostly round and probably disc-like and appeared to flutter and reflect the sunlight, flying at an altitude of 20,000 to 30,000 feet. Sometimes they flew in formations. Otherwise, they maneuvered alone. At times, they appeared to emit brief pulses of something resembling vapor trails as they moved erratically.

Whatever the scientific conclusions, UFOs and aliens visiting Earth have constituted a widespread international cultural phenomenon and have been the subject of many science fiction novels and movies since the 1950s.

A 1996 Gallup Poll found that 70% of the US public believed that the government was not sharing everything it knew about UFOs or extraterrestrial life. The fresh interest from the scientific community in demystifying UFOs after expressing skepticism and disbelief over the past several decades gives hope that the mystery will be unraveled and that people will learn more about the secrets of the universe.

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