For millennia, humankind has looked to the heavens. We have gazed in wonder, searched for inspiration, and let loose our imagination about things we cannot now, and might never, see.
So what now to think about the objects captured on three videos by the U.S. Navy? The videos were leaked in 2017 and 2018, and can be viewed online, but the Navy last week finally confirmed them and, somewhat disquietingly, admitted it has no idea what the objects are. It calls them “unidentified aerial phenomena,” not unidentified flying objects, a nod perhaps to the old term’s stigma of wackiness. What the videos reveal are Navy pilots encountering flying objects they cannot identify, moving in ways no one inside or outside the government has been able to explain. The objects are cloudy yet mesmerizing, tiny dots sowing enormous and fundamental questions.
Where did they come from? Are they using technology of which we can’t conceive? Are they being piloted by life-forms we cannot begin to understand?
The videos were shot by Navy pilots in 2004 and 2015. A 2017 story by The New York Times about one encounter included the federal government’s first-ever acknowledgment of the secret Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Mull the term — “threat identification.”
In the videos, astonished crews debate what the objects are and where they came from. “There’s a whole fleet of them!” one voice says in one video, and then: “They’re all going against the wind, that wind is 120 miles (per hour) to the west!” But the best summary is a stunned: “What the (expletive) is that thing?”
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The craft seem to do things no human-made craft can, like suddenly appearing at an altitude of 80,000 feet, hurtling down to 20,000 feet, hovering, then shooting back up to 80,000 feet. They are shockingly fast, spherical and have no visible means of propulsion or trails of exhaust. The Navy says these videos represent just a tiny fraction of reported “incursions.” Mull that, too.
A Navy spokesman said the newfound transparency about unidentified aerial phenomena is part of an attempt to get pilots to report such sightings without fearing any stigma. It’s a stunning turnaround for a government that spent decades assuring the country that every object in our skies could be explained and scoffing at UFO enthusiasts who embraced the unlimited possibilities they saw in the skies.
For all of us on the ground, though, it’s a reminder that we don’t have all the answers, that we live in a limitless and mysterious universe. And in that context, our daily strife and struggles are just a bit of cosmic dust.