“Are we, both scientists and lay people, ready?” asks Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb in his introduction to his controversial new book, Extraterrestrial –The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. “Is human civilization,” Loeb ponders, “ready to confront what follows our accepting the plausible conclusion, arrived at through evidence-backed hypotheses, that terrestrial life isn’t unique and perhaps not even particularly impressive? I fear the answer is no, and that prevailing prejudice is a cause for concern.”
“UFOs seemed to move in ways that exceed current technology”
Loeb’s concern is a fitting preface to Megan McArdle’s opinion piece in Washington Post Opinion last week. “Why aren’t we talking more about UFOs?”. McArdle’s article foreshadowed NASA’s announcement by its new director, Bill Nelson that the agency is officially joining the effort to investigate UFOs.
“We are now getting previews of the latest government investigation into that question, a declassified version of which is scheduled to be released soon,” wrote McArdle, “Sifting through scores of incidents of UFOs that seemed to move in ways that exceed current technology, the investigators reportedly found no evidence that they were looking at extraterrestrial technology — but also no way to rule it out. Apparently, all they could say for sure was that most of the reported sightings did not involve secret U.S. government advanced technology.”
The most important question for our species
“Whether we’re being visited, and what they might be up to, is the most important question of anyone’s lifetime,” concludes McArdle “because, if so, everything that currently obsesses us, including the pandemic, will retreat to a historical footnote. It might well be the most important question for our species since Homo erectus debated whether to play with fire.”
NASA’s Nelson noted how the now-famous videos of unknown objects seen and filmed by US Navy pilots had initiated a new wave of government interest in the long-taboo topic.
“They think it’s real”
“I just want you to know that what you have seen on the TV recently, on the Navy films, I had known about this in my former capacity in Intel in the Armed Services Committee,” said Nelson at NASA’s June 2nd Press Conference held at its Washington D.C. Headquarters. “And, I’ve talked to those pilots. And they think it’s real.”
“I have talked to Thomas, Dr. Z, (Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen Associate Administrator at NASA’s Science Directorate) about what specifically we can do from a science perspective in addition to an intel perspective, to try and bring any additional light to this.”
At NASA’s June 2nd Conference, whose primary purpose was to announce a pair of new Venus missions, Nelson’s initial statement on UFOs was brief before he directed the question to Dr. Zurbuchen, who offered his take on the situation. “History is full of examples of things that were identified, or were referred to as UFOs, that are some types of clouds, or weather phenomena,” said Zurbuchen. “The kind of questions that focus on life elsewhere are very much what we do, using the tools of science,” he said. “We will do whatever we can to move our understanding forward.”
“What is it? We don’t know”
Zurbuchen concluded his comments with a hopeful look toward projects like the James Webb telescope (scheduled for launch in November 2021) or NASA’s Dragonfly Mission that include more traditional efforts to search for potential signs of life in the cosmos.
NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Kathy Lueders, wrapped up the topic with a comment that seemed perfectly in line with her job title. “If anyone knows how to do a spacecraft design like that,” she said, referring to the UAP videos, “I would love to talk to them.”
“I have talked to those Navy pilots,” Nelson said in a subsequent CNN interview, “and they are sure they saw something real. Of course, we’ve seen their videos from their jets. What is it? We don’t know.”
Avi Shporer, Research Scientist, MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research via NASA , CNN, C-Span, and The Washington Post. Avi was formerly a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
Image credit at top of page: The Arrival, Paramount Pictures