It could have been the day that finally answered the burning question: Are there aliens out there? Sadly, we'll still have to wait.
A U.S. government report on UFOs, released Friday, said it found no evidence of aliens, but acknowledged 143 reports of "unidentified aerial phenomena" since 2004 that could not be explained.
The report was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with substantial input from the military. The study is part of the most significant public effort so far to deal with decades of speculation, rumor and unhinged conspiracy theories about UFOs.
Some of the most intriguing cases come from Navy pilots who reported seeing UFOs — and filming some of them — off the East Coast of the U.S. over a period of months in 2014 and 2015.
The pilots, including some who have spoken publicly, say the mystery objects moved with exceptional speed, agility and acceleration that they had never seen before. And in some incidents, the pilots claimed the objects went underwater.
The report was mandated by Congress and points to an increased willingness of government officials to discuss UFOs without fear of open ridicule.
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Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, pushed for the study and said in a statement, "This report is an important first step in cataloging these incidents, but it is just a first step. The Defense Department and intelligence community have a lot of work to do before we can actually understand whether these aerial threats present a serious national security concern."
A recent rise in sightings
Many of the unexplained sights come from the past couple years as the Air Force and the Navy have put in place formal procedures for reporting such incidents.
For starters, the government is using the term "unidentified aerial phenomena" to avoid referring to UFOs and the stigma that has often gone with talking about them.
Still, the report noted that, "The limited amount of high-quality reporting on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) hampers our ability to draw firm conclusions."
While the report could not provide many answers, it did offer a range of possibilities.
It said the UFOs, or UAPs, could be part of a secret U.S. government or military project, but did not cite any such cases.
In addition, they could be part of a clandestine program in another country with advanced aerial capabilities, like Russia or China, though the report offered no such proof this was the case.
In some incidents the UFOs showed "unusual flight characteristics. These observations could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception and require additional rigorous analysis," the report added.
The main contents of the report were widely leaked to the media earlier this month, and few minds are likely to be changed.
For UFO skeptics, the report will probably reinforce their doubts that aliens are periodically whizzing past but not bothering to send a clear message.
For UFO enthusiasts, the report's acknowledgement of so many unexplained objects is likely to generate calls for more resources to study the issue.
U.S. intelligence agencies and military were required to produce this report after funding was included in a huge spending bill approved by Congress late last year that focused mostly on COVID relief.
Former President Donald Trump signed the bill on Dec. 27, which then gave the Office of the Director of National Intelligence 180 days to produce the report and send it to Congress.
How it began
As NPR's Bill Chappell noted earlier this month, the real starting point for UFO speculation, and possible government involvement, dates to Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947. According to UFO true believers, that's when the U.S. Air Force allegedly found and seized an alien spacecraft and its occupants.
In reality, an Air Force balloon intended for spying on the Soviet Union's nuclear program crashed near Roswell during a test flight. The Air Force quickly cleaned up its the crash site and was unwilling to talk about the clandestine program, known as Project Mogul.
But that launched UFO conspiracies still going strong to this day.
The Air Force did start its own program to investigate UFO sightings in 1947, called Project BLUE BOOK. Over the next two decades, 12,618 sightings were reported. When the project ended in 1969, around 700 sightings were still categorized as "unidentified," according to the National Archives.
Meanwhile, to this day the faithful, and the merely curious, make the trek to Roswell.
In recent years, current and former government officials have been more willing to broach the topic.
Former President Barack Obama was asked about UFOs in May on "The Late Late Show with James Corden" on CBS.
"What is true, and I'm actually being serious here, is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don't know exactly what they are," Obama said.
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