US military confirms UFOs are known unknowns

Unidentified: The three videos were taken by US Navy pilots. (This image is a simulation).

Should we embrace the unknown? After years of secrecy, the US government has released astonishing videos of UFOs, admitting it still doesn’t know if Earth has been visited by aliens.

If seeing is believing, then get ready to believe some very strange things. US Navy pilots have recorded weird and wonderful videos of Unidentified Flying Objects – soaring faster than a jet plane over the Pacific Ocean and hovering above the water, making the sea boil.

These films have floated around the internet for a few years, fuelling speculation that the US government knows more about extraterrestrial visitors than it is letting on. Now, the Pentagon has confirmed: yes, the videos are real and, no, they don’t know what we’re looking at.

This frank admission of ignorance is a remarkable moment in the history of UFOs.

Our fascination with flying saucers began in 1947, when Americans began to spot strange shapes in the sky. This was the start of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, and both superpowers were developing and testing new rockets and spy planes. This may have been the cause of some of these close encounters, but it also explained why the US was incredibly secretive about what was going on.

This secrecy fed people’s curiosity and hunger for answers. UFO hunters developed theories to explain hundreds of unexplained phenomena – many of them focusing on a top-secret US military base called Area 51. Sightings peaked in the 1990s, at the same time as television and film explored the idea that the US government was hiding evidence of alien contact.

By announcing, last week, that these videos are real, the Pentagon probably hopes to end speculation that further evidence exists. But should we be excited or terrified about things we do not understand?

The unknown did not comfort Stephen Hawking, who warned we should be very worried about the consequences of real alien encounters. And the fear of the unknown is a powerful force that has fuelled scientific discovery and invention for thousands of years.

But there is also wonder and wisdom in embracing uncertainty. The philosopher Immanuel Kant, argued we can never be completely certain about the world beyond our senses. Life is about exploring something that is ultimately unknowable.

So, should we embrace the unknown?

Final frontier

Yes, we should. The modern world is saturated with knowledge and is empty of mystery, surprise, and wonder. Our ancestors were used to asking big questions and living with the unknowable, but these days we just google the answer. But not only does embracing the unknown give us perspective, it feeds our imagination and allows us to think creatively about what is possible.

Others say, no, there is a reason why we fear uncertainty. The unknown makes us anxious because we don’t know how dangerous it is. The coronavirus was a new disease and we were right to fear it. The hunt for a cure is our attempt to conquer this unknown. The same is true of anything else we cannot explain or control. Including those flying saucers.

You Decide

  1. Do you believe aliens have visited Earth?
  2. Are there things we will never fully know and understand?

Activities

  1. Take a piece of paper and design your own UFO. Draw a diagram to show what it looks like inside and outside, and explain how it flies.
  2. What do aliens need to know about us? Write a one-page letter of introduction to our extraterrestrial visitors, telling them the most important information they need to know about planet Earth.

Some People Say...

“Awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.”

Socrates (470-399 BC), ancient Greek philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Science and technology have advanced dramatically since the first UFO was sighted in 1947. For example, we have discovered over 4,000 planets in the hunt for extraterrestrial life and the Seti programme is analysing electromagnetic radiation from across the Universe for signs of life. However, it is clear from these videos that there are still strange phenomena right here on Earth that we don’t fully understand.
What do we not know?
The big question is whether not knowing is a good thing. Conspiracy theories thrive on a lack of knowledge and information – as we have seen recently with Covid-19. These can be harmful, but they are only one type of story-telling. Science-fiction writers, for example, would have nothing to write about without the strange and the unknown. Philosophers, on the other hand, argue that it is precisely by understanding the limits of our knowledge that we can truly understand what we know.

Word Watch

Unidentified Flying Objects
The term UFO was first used in 1953 by the US Air Force.
Extraterrestrial
Anything from outside Earth.
Pentagon
The headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.
Flying saucers
On 24 June 1947, Keneth Arnold reported nine disk-shaped objects over Mount Rainer in Washington State. A few weeks later, a “flying saucer” crashed in Roswell, New Mexico. The military said it was a weather balloon but, by the end of 1947, there had been 850 sightings of flying saucers.
Close encounters
In 1972, the UFO researcher Josef Allen Hynek designed a system to categorise alien encounters. A Close Encounter of the First Kind was a UFO sighting from 150 metres away. The Second Kind involved evidence left behind, like marks on the ground. The Third Kind was an encounter with the aliens themselves.
Area 51
A top-secret US Airbase in the Nevada desert. From 1955 onwards, the facility was used to test new military aircraft. However, some believe UFOs and aliens are studied at this location.
Television and film
The hit TV series The X-Files (1993-2002) and the Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day (1996) aired at a time when 33% of Americans believed aliens had visited Earth. By 2004, that number dropped to below a quarter.
Stephen Hawking
The English theoretical physicist (1942-2018) said in 2010, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” He believed aliens were unlikely to be friendly and that we should be prepared to be conquered and colonised.
Immanuel Kant
German philosopher of the Enlightenment (1724-1804) who developed the idea that everything we know about the physical world is arrived at through our senses. We can wonder about what is out there, but we can never be certain.

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