“Sickly Minutes” (UFO sightings)

A 60 Minutes segment this month is being advertised as the government admitting that alien life forms are flying overhead, as well as low to the ground, and doing so by accessing a science beyond our means.

But what the government actually said was only that there are some objects we cannot identify. And a more sobering look shows the explanation to likely be terrestrial.

Writing for Scientific American, theoretical physicist Katie Mack notes that most persons in her field find it more likely than not that life exists on other planets. There are heavenly bodies that have liquid trapped under icy surfaces and which are heated due to their close orbit – a descriptor of Earth in the days when life emerged here.

But if life followed that same pattern elsewhere, did it evolve sufficiently to conquer interplanetary travel and be captured by shaky military cameras?

Light from the second-closest star to Earth, Proxima Centauri, takes four years to reach us. Mack calculated that it would require an uninterrupted journey of 70,000 years in mankind’s fastest spaceship to complete this trip. She wrote, “Whatever technology an alien civilization might have, it’s reasonable to assume they would take the short option first, and send an electromagnetic signal. Or perhaps they would build some large, obvious, electromagnetic radiation–absorbing structure in their own backyard.”

Even if such a species were disinclined or incapable of this cosmic shortcut, the distance seems prohibitive for an in-creature visit. Sure, they could have technology far beyond ours, such as near-warp speed travel or wormhole accessibility. But it is hardly reasonable to assume those developments. If we don’t know what the objects are, trying to plug interstellar spacecraft into the equation is to commit a secular version of the god of the gaps fallacy.

We are open to the idea of alien life; some scientists even consider it extremely likely and examine evidence suggesting it has occurred. For example, Mack wrote that an interstellar asteroid and the dimming of an otherwise normal star have both have been interpreted as possible evidence of alien life, and astrophysicists have checked them out.

So if alien life is discovered, Mack thinks it will most likely be through observing exoplanets orbiting stars. She explained, “If we can directly image an exoplanet, or see it pass in front of its star, we can search the spectrum of its light for signatures of chemical balances that only biological organisms can produce, whether they be microbes or mushrooms or megafauna.”

In other words, if confirmation of alien life emerges, it is unlikely to be in the form of flying saucers, ray guns, and requests to be taken to our leader.

Also weighing in has been Mick West, a skeptic leader specializing in UFO sightings. The 60 Minutes segment was interpreted by some excited observers as the U.S. government admitting UFOs are real. These persons, many of whom would have dismissed any government denial of such extraterrestrial entities, are ready to embrace Uncle Sam this time.

The program opens with an interview of Luis Elizondo, who claims to head a government entity that studies UFOs. He said Washington has already stated the objects are genuine. Of course, UFO merely refers to not being certain what it is, not being certain it is an alien spacecraft.

Elizondo then describes the observed phenomena displaying, perhaps literally, otherworldly technology. We are talking such Flash Gordonesque capabilities as accelerating at 600g, flying 17,000 miles per through the atmosphere, and maintaining high speed in water. To clarify, the government has not conceded that these abilities to have been witnessed or recorded.

What the videos show are flying objects acting in accord with physics and the limitations of human technology. Proponents tout one video as being of an incredibly fast craft hugging the ocean.

But West used trigonometry and numbers on the screen to deduce the object was well above the water and moving at a speed that matches the wind at that altitude. This, in all likelihood, means the object is merely a balloon.

In a night vision video, we see a green flashing triangle, which sounds like a receptacle that could be housing spacefaring creatures. However, West demonstrated that the light pattern matches that of a commercial 737. Further, some night-vision devices come with a triangular aperture. Combined with being a little out of focus and shot from above, it presents the image of a flying triangle. Other triangles in the scene were determined to be stars.

A third video purportedly features physics-defying acceleration, but a closer look reveals that the supposed sudden moves result from the camera moving or changing its mode.

Yet another video, of an alleged flying saucer, seems to in fact be of an infrared glare of a distant plane and a rotating gimbal mechanism.

Taken it totality, there is little reason to suspect these are alien spacecraft, and in most cases aren’t even UFOs. We know what they are, where they come from, and why they act as they appear.

Some believers deride skeptics as blinder-wearing killjoys who would not own up to aliens if they landed on our lawn. I would welcome the confirmation of extraterrestrials and would be even more fascinated by an Earthly visit. I would consider such an occurrence to be the biggest news story ever. But I am not so desperate for it to be true that I consider scientific analysis of the phenomenon to be a denial of evidence that it has already happened.

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