Why Don’t Astronomers Pay Attention to UFO’s

Image Credit: Artem Kovalev

Astronomers spend much of their time looking for alien life, some even look for intelligent alien life. There is the SETI program that has been scanning space for signs of alien radio signals since the 80’s, for instance. Meanwhile, astrobiologists are looking for organic materials in exoplanet atmospheres, NASA studies Martian soil for bacteria and some astronomers are even searching for signs of Dyson spheres and other hyper advanced alien megastructures. However, there are no programs aimed at studying UFO’s or alien life on Earth. Why is that?

UFO craze started in the late 1940’s

The idea of UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) or UAPs (Unexplained Aerial Phenomena) as they are called these days, has been around for centuries, but the so-called ‘UFO craze’ started in the late 1940’s, coinciding with the cold war. The secrecy and general mistrust of the period, combined with limited technology was the ideal environment for spreading such theories. There are several known cases of the time where the military scrambled jets to intercept strange objects that appear out of nowhere on the radar, only to have them vanish minutes later. However, these strange ‘sightings’ went down as technology improved. The exact opposite of what one would expect if these were real objects, but in line with the theory of these sightings being glitches.

The cases that did persist never produced clear photos or videos, and rarely got recorded from multiple directions. Especially in today’s day and age, it is very strange that all recordings are still of a similar quality to those of the 80’s and 90’s, despite almost everyone having a camera these days and there being literally tens of thousands of amateur astronomers that observe the skies each day. This is the main problem for astronomers and other scientists.

Seeking natural vs alien explanations

In general astronomers and other scientists ask themselves the following question whenever considering the answer for a phenomenon: “Based on our current understanding of the universe, is there an explanation that fits this model, one that does not require an extraordinary explanation?”

The answer to this is not always yes! For example Einstein’s theory of General Relativity was needed to explain certain offsets in the motion of the planets, and Quantum Field Theory is being considered as a unified explanation of the laws of physics. However, this is not the case with most sightings of UFOs, as we can explain most of them as either fakes, man-made phenomena or natural phenomena with little effort. Therefore, it would be unscientific to assume that these sightings are of an alien nature despite other solutions existing.

If these UFOs exist and if they visit Earth regularly, we should have much more data on them. For example, there are wide spread meteor observation networks all over the world that can spot meteors that are several centimeters in size, triangulate where they will fall and even calculate their orbit to find their origin. Yet, none of these networks have reported any UFOs. Besides that, there are many all-sky monitoring stations that continuously observe the sky for supernovae and exoplanet transits. These systems often also track satellites in order to remove them from the data. These systems also have not reported any UFOs.

Extraordinary evidence required

This is why most astronomers do not bother with studying UFOs. There is no proper data, cases are inconsistent and often faked and even if they are not, they can be explained with our current understanding of physics. To quote the famous Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, and we simply do not have that right now.

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