UAPs/UFOs: Collect Data, THEN Draw Conclusions

Collage: space alien movie promotional art.
Space aliens in the movies: not what I’ll be talking about.

Sci-fi movie poster collage; including 'Plan 9 from Outer Space,' 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,' 'The Thing.'I’m about as sure as I can be, that space aliens have not:

  • Replaced my neighbors with pod people
  • Been held in a secret laboratory
  • Plotted to conquer our fair planet

I do, however, think that life might exist on other worlds.

And even if it doesn’t, studying phenomena that we don’t quite understand strikes me as a good idea.

At this point, having seen what I’d written and the first two pictures, my oldest daughter said “‘Not a normal Catholic blog!'” More accurately, she wrote it. We’d been enjoying our daily online chat. And that’s another topic.

Well, she’s right. This isn’t a normal Catholic blog — whatever that is — and this isn’t a normal Catholic blog post.

It isn’t even all of what I had planned for this week. I’ll explain that, then talk about NASA’s new UAP report, attitudes, assumptions; and, finally, touch on the legacy of “Killers from Space”.

What I’d Planned, What’s Ready This Week

NASA photo and text from UAP landing page: 'Members of the Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team gather for a public meeting in May 2023. Back row, left to right: Walter Scott, Warren Randolph, Reggie Brothers, Shelley Wright, Scott Kelly, Anamaria Berea, Mike Gold. Front row, left to right: Nadia Drake, Paula Bontempi, Federica Bianco, David Grinspoon, Karlin Toner, Josh Semeter, Jennifer Bus, David Spergel, Dan Evans.' (May 31, 2023, screenshot taken June 13, 2023Back in June, I discussed UFOs, UAPs, NASA’s plans for studying stuff we don’t understand yet, and why I thought it’s a good idea.

Last week, NASA released the “UAP Independent Study Team Report”.1

So, after a quick look, I talked about it. Wrote about it, actually; and said that taking a second look would probably be worth the effort: “this time actually reading it: not just skimming for something I can quote.”

That was then, this is now. I’ve read through the thing. All 31 pages: 36 including the front and back sheets, which are worth looking at. NASA did a nice job with illustrations.

Which reminds me. Here’s a link to the report. It’s an Acrobat/pdf file on the site.

I’d planned on taking notes as I went along, then discussing the main points.

I’ve been running a fever, and feeling distinctly sub-par, so that’s not gonna happen.

Instead, here’s what I see as a few important issues; along with why I still think studying phenomena we don’t understand is a good idea.

Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP): Stigma and Sprites

Screenshot of CartoonStock Ltd., selection from 27,593 results of 'ufo crackpot' search. (CartoonStock Ltd.)
UFO cartoons, a selection from CartoonStock Ltd.

“…The study of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) presents a unique scientific opportunity that demands a rigorous, evidence-based approach. Addressing this challenge will require new and robust data acquisition methods, advanced analysis techniques, a systematic reporting framework and reducing reporting stigma. NASA – with its extensive expertise in these domains and global reputation for scientific openness – is in an excellent position to contribute to UAP studies within the broader whole-of-government framework led by the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO)….”
(“UAP Independent Study Team Report“, Final Report, NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023) p. 3)
[emphasis mine]

That goal, “reducing reporting stigma”, strikes me as a very good idea.

NASA’s “extensive expertise … and global reputation” — the statement’s probably accurate, but the tone felt a trifle overly-complimentary. Accurate, though, I hope; and I’ll leave it at that.

One more excerpt, then moving along to the idea that folks shouldn’t be punished for making accurate reports:

“…A particularly promising avenue for deeper integration within a systematic, evidenced-based framework for is the NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), which NASA administers for the FAA. This system is a confidential, voluntary, non-punitive reporting system that receives safety reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, dispatchers, cabin crew, ground operators, maintenance technicians…”
(“UAP Independent Study Team Report“, Final Report, NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023) p. 18)
[emphasis mine]

Now, why all this fuss about “stigma” and “non-punitive”?

Accurate Reporting May End Your Career — or — Sprites and Assumptions

Stephane Vetter (TWAN)'s photo: red sprite, an uncommon sort of lightning an image with a remarkable level of detail. Most thunderstorms do not produce sprites. Via 'UAP Independent Study Team Report' (2023) used w/o permission.Thunderstorm sprites are real these days.2

They’re a rare phenomenon, and didn’t exist during my youth. Not officially.

I remember reading an article about the things, back when scientists were confirming that strange lights really do shoot up from the tops of thunderstorms. Rarely.

The article discussed what had happened to a few folks who had seen sprites, hadn’t taken pictures, but had reported what they saw anyway.

One of them was an American soldier who’d been standing guard at night. As I recall, he’d been told to report anything unusual. So, when he saw lights shoot up from the top of a distant thunderstorm, he told his superior what he’d seen.

This was back in the Sixties, give or take. So “obviously” he’d been on drugs. Or maybe he was one of those crazy guys who sees things that aren’t there. Either way, any plans he might have had for a military career went phut.

Maybe that was an isolated incident. I’ve looked for that article, or another piece discussing the inappropriately-diligent soldier and related situations. So far, I’ve found nothing. Not surprising, since it was around a half-century back now.

What impresses me is how much has been transferred to humanity’s digitized archives, and that’s yet another topic.

“Continuous Darts of Light…Resembling Rockets More Than Lightning”

STS-32 Shuttle mission payload bay TV camera's video image: a single stratospheric luminous discharge appearing to move upward into clear night air. (April 28, 1990)In 20/20 hindsight, we’ve found examples of folks (probably) seeing sprites, jets, ELVES, and other rare phenomena, going back at least to 1886.

“…Throughout the historical scientific literature, there are sprinklings of eyewitness accounts of unusual ‘lightning’ observed in the clear air above nighttime thunderstorms. The descriptions use phases such as ‘continuous darts of light… ascended to a considerable altitude, resembling rockets more than lightning.’ (MacKenzie and Toynbee, 1886), ‘a luminous trail shot up to 15 degrees or so, about as fast as, or faster than, a rocket’ (Everett, 1903), ‘a long weak streamer of a reddish hue’ (Malan, 1937), ‘flames appearing to rise from the top of the cloud’ (Ashmore, 1950), or ‘the discharge assumed a shape similar to roots of a tree in an inverted position’ (Wood, 1951). Partly because these eyewitness reports of unusual ‘lightning’ appearing above thunderstorms were never captured on film, the lightning science community generally ignored them. The lack of an established vocabulary and the existence of several distinctive phenomena contributed to the variation in the verbal descriptions….”
(“The Role of the Space Shuttle Videotapes in the Discovery of Sprites, Jets, and Elves“; William L. Boeck, Otha H. Vaughan, Jr., Richard J. Blakeslee, Bernard Vonnegut, Marx Brook (ca. 1996?) via NASA)

Ignoring isolated reports of rare phenomena may have made sense.

Particularly after 1888, when George Eastman started marketing his Kodak camera.

After that, observers might be expected to have their Kodak #1 readily at hand when witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime event. Or maybe not.

“The lack of an established vocabulary” didn’t help, and neither did the fact that observers were describing several different phenomena.

In any case, sprites and other high-altitude electrical phenomena left a trail of ignored observations and penalized witnesses. Until scientists in Minnesota and elsewhere started actively seeking the weird things.

Taking video cameras into space didn’t hurt.3 It would take a fervent disciple of ignorance to claim that camcorders can hallucinate. And that’s yet again another topic.

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No! It’s a — Thing

U. S. Department of Defense image: an unidentified object in South Asia with an apparent atmospheric wake or cavitation. From footage taken by an MQ-9. Tentatively identified as a commercial aircraft, with apparent cavitation produced by video compression. All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, via NASA, used w/o permission.
Something odd in footage taken by a UAV. From “UAP Independent Study Team Report”. (2023)

The NASA UAP report talks about technology and information sharing systems that would have been science fiction in my youth.

I’d planned on talking about that. As I said earlier, it’s been one of those weeks; so I won’t.

Even with today’s tech, sometimes all we’ve got to work with is a grainy image: like that “South Asian Object”.

I don’t know how the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) decided that it was probably a commercial aircraft, recorded in a compressed video image.

The apparent cavitation does strike me as being similar to what I’ve seen in over-compressed digital images. But that sort-of-bullet-shaped blob doesn’t look much like an aircraft to me: commercial or otherwise.

On the other hand, I don’t have access to the original files; and I sure don’t know how the UAV’s system works.4 So I’ll willingly assume that the “assessed as a likely commercial aircraft” label makes sense.

And I sure wouldn’t assume that a fuzzy blob is proof that space aliens are in our skies.

Sprites and Flight Safety: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Eastview's image: first color image of a sprite, obtained during a 1994 NASA/University of Alaska aircraft campaign to study sprites. (1994) via Wikipedia, used w/o permissionSo how come NASA and the Department of Defense have been studying UAPs?

A big reason mentioned in that NASA report is safety.

Another excerpt. The way I’ve been feeling, this isn’t the time to try paraphrasing.

“…ODNI assess that the observed increase in the reporting rate is partially due to a better understanding of the possible threats that UAP may represent—either as flight safety hazards or as potential adversary collection platforms. This is partially due to reduced stigma surrounding UAP reporting….”
(“UAP Independent Study Team Report“, Final Report, NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023) p. 3)
[emphasis mine]

Sorting out what “potential adversary collection platforms” means in governmentalese is beyond me at the moment.

“Flight safety hazards”, however, is pretty straightforward. I haven’t found much about what happens when a vehicle interacts with, say, a sprite. But I figure getting up close and personal with any sort of massive electrical discharge is not good news.

In 1989, for example, a NASA high-altitude balloon dropped its payload while drifting over a thunderstorm.

Odds are, it tangled with a sprite: although that term wasn’t used as a label for the cold plasma phenomenon until 1993.5

Hate Mail, Stigma and Speculation

Frame from W. Lee Wilder's 'Killers From Space': Peter Graves surrounded by B movie space aliens. (1954)Ignoring an apparently one-off report with no supporting evidence is one thing.

Punishing someone for making such a report, or sending hate mail to folks who might study such reports?

That’s something else.

One more excerpt (it’s the last one this week, honest!).

“…NASA’s public announcement of its UAP Independent Study Team membership was met with interest and spurred both positive and negative feedback. At least one scientist serving on the study team reported receiving negative (hate) mail from colleagues due to their membership. Others were ridiculed and criticized on social media. Study Team members also noted firsthand knowledge of colleagues who were warned to stay away from research in areas like extraterrestrial technosignatures, which could damage their scientific credibility and promotion potential. These experiences further confirm the negative stigma associated with studying unusual or unexplained phenomena….”
(“UAP Independent Study Team Report“, Final Report, NASA Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study Team (September 14, 2023) pp. 26-27)
[emphasis mine]

Warning someone to stay away from studying extraterrestrial technosignatures, lightning, smallpox, or phlogiston — could be reasonable. I can see how a thoughtful colleague might try steering a friend away from career suicide.

But spitting the sort of venom I imagine in the ridicule and hate mail mentioned in NASA’s “UAP Independent Study Team Report”? That doesn’t seem so friendly.

I don’t know what’s going on inside the heads of cyberbullies, academic vigilantes, and folks who embrace the ‘my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts’ philosophy.

But that won’t keep me from speculating.

Part of what’s in play may be rooted in cinematic presentations like “Invaders from Mars”, “Killers from Space”, and “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.

Consciously or not, a person might file “extraterrestrial intelligence” under “schlock movies”, cross-indexed with “stupid kid stuff” and “crackpot notions”. It might even make sense.

To someone who hadn’t fully embraced the possibility that serious ideas can be presented in monumentally tacky formats, at any rate.

Nottsuo's 'Shoggoth.' (2016)Then there’s Lovecraft’s “terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein”, and perceived existential threats — which I’ll leave for next week.

The perceived existential threats, anyway.

Finally, I think learning more about this vast, ancient and wonder-packed universe is a good idea.6

Starting with a conclusion, and then picking data that supports that conclusion — is anything but.

Haven’t had enough of my writing? There’s more:

1 That NASA UAP/UFO report:

2 Electrical phenomena — or — static cling on a cosmic scale:

3 A little science, a little history:

4 This is not the world I grew up on:

5 Close encounters of the sparky kind:

6 Schlock, silliness, science and me:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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4 Responses to UAPs/UFOs: Collect Data, THEN Draw Conclusions

  1. As I think about the risk-taking these UAP scientists are doing, I remember that when we think that the truth is worthless without massive attention rather than the right attention, that’s when we’re really doing something wrong about getting the truth across. Also, there’s how folks like Copernicus and Galileo were treated in their time. And then there’s God maintaining His Church we prideful mortals who call ourselves His followers often make infamous. Again, I remember that seeking the truth isn’t just about knowing what you want to know but also allowing yourself to be proven wrong when you should be proven wrong. It’s a quest of humility, in other words.

  2. “…It’s a quest of humility, in other words.”

    Well-said. (Learning to tell when one is proven wrong – that’s a skill that takes learning! 😉 )

    I may be coming back to what was going to be the rest of this post next week – provided something really big doesn’t pop up in the meantime. You’ve suggested a focus for that – which I may remember, as the thing gets written.

Thanks for taking time to comment!