Perspectives on UAP From Across the Atlantic

Takeaways from a German workshop on mysterious sightings in the sky.

A Navy aircraft tracks a tiny moving object, referred to as "GOFAST," off the East Coast of the U.S. in 2015. (U.S. Department of Defense)
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Last week the German Aerospace Society held a workshop to discuss the search for extraterrestrial intelligent life and whether a recently released Pentagon report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena—the new preferred name for UFOs—should change our outlook in this regard. Invited speakers were Massimo Teodorani, an astrophysicist and book author from Italy, Hakan Kayal, a remote sensing expert from the University of Würzburg in Germany, and myself.

The Pentagon report prompted a number of reactions in the United States, including a project initiated by Avi Loeb from Harvard University and others to investigate unexplained aerial phenomena. Scientists across the Atlantic also have been watching the latest developments. The European organization that keeps the closest eye on UAP sightings is probably GEIPAN, a unit of the French Space Agency that has analyzed a total of 2,923 cases, of which 99 remain unexplained to date. This correlates roughly with the percentage of unexplained observations in the United States.

I went first on the workshop agenda, giving a general overview of the search for extraterrestrial life and the evolutionary progression (on Earth) toward complex and intelligent life, including the Cosmic Zoo hypothesis. I then discussed the Fermi Paradox and its possible solutions, some of which could be consistent with the idea that UAP are extraterrestrial in origin—for example, Star Trek’s prime directive, whereby aliens do (generally) not interfere with humanity.

Next was Teodorani, who elaborated on methodologies for how to distinguish between natural phenomena and artificial objects. Doing so would require, ideally, that the spectral resolution of UAP images be increased by a factor of 1,000 to 10,000. He also pointed out that the number of reported sightings correlates roughly with population size, but with significant outliers. These exceptional locations may be preferred places for UAP to occur—something he thinks should be looked into. Teodorani saw no correlation of sightings with magnetic anomalies, but another workshop participant pointed out that a reported correlation of UAP sightings with tectonic fault lines may suggest that piezoelectricity could be responsible for some of the sightings.

In his talk, Kayal emphasized that in order to investigate UAP we first have to fully understand known phenomena and objects, including sprites, elves, blue jets, weather balloons, and possible technical artifacts. He updated us on his own efforts to develop sensor systems that could reduce false positive detections, which, based on his experience, turned out to be mostly birds or insects. Kayal was able to reduce the fraction of false positive detections by as much as 95 percent, but his goal is to get as close to 100 percent as possible.

The consensus of the workshop participants was that UAPs should be investigated with greater openness, and without a stigma. According to Kayal, the low but significant percentage of observations that remain unexplained (3.4 percent, according to GEIPAN) could be due to secret technology developments, previously unknown natural phenomena, or extraterrestrial intelligence, any of which would be exciting and important to know about. I’m confident that science will eventually be successful in providing an answer, especially as sensing technology improves.

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