UFOs: The Pentagon’s hunt for aliens
“If there was a Peak 2017 news story, this is it,” said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com. In a fitting end to a surreal year, The New York Times had a scoop that would have been a bombshell in the pre-Trump era: The U.S. government has been investigating the possibility that aliens have visited our planet. Between 2008 and 2011, the Pentagon spent $22 million on a secretive program examining reports of unidentified flying objects. Investigators looked into several unexplained sightings by pilots of strange aircraft that moved at incredibly high speeds, with abrupt changes in direction and no visible signs of propulsion. Government contractors, the Times reported, constructed specially modified storage buildings in Las Vegas to house mysterious “metal alloys” recovered from UFOs. In video footage collected by the program, two Navy fighter jet pilots marvel at a cigar-shaped flying object that moves unlike any known aircraft. “What was considered science fiction,” the former director of the program concluded, “is now science fact.”
Let’s not get carried away, said Jeff Wise in NYMag.com. The Times story, and the federal program it describes, provided no concrete evidence of alien visitations. The much-hyped fighter video is too fuzzy to make out anything, and pilot sightings of unexplained aircraft date back to the 1940s. As for storage sheds filled with mysterious alloys, did scientists, in fact, determine the metals were not of earthly origin? The newspaper doesn’t say, preferring to create a sense of mystery and drama by leaving lots of questions unanswered. “These techniques are great for exciting an audience,” but they prove nothing.
Let’s remember that UFOs are unidentified by definition, said Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re from outer space. The objects pilots have spotted might be “naturally occurring phenomena that can only be detected while traveling at high speeds.” Still, it’s fun to wonder. The most surprising thing about this story is how little attention it got, said Molly Roberts in The Washington Post. Alas, even “the possibility of alien invasion has not managed to break through the Trump bubble.” What a pity. Like the solar eclipse last summer, the hunt for extraterrestrial life reminds us that we’re just a small part of an inconceivably large universe. In this era of petty partisanship and “all-consuming chaos,” that’s something of a comfort.