The last year has seen the US government actually begin to pay attention to possible alien activity. In 2021 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence conducted an unprecedented preliminary assessment of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAPs), or the government’s term for UFOs. The assessment aimed to determine how federal agencies could begin investigating, classifying, and addressing 144 UAP sightings from the previous 17 years. Most of these sightings weren’t explainable at the time, but this week, intelligence agencies will provide Congress with an update…and it’s a little less flashy than anticipated.
According to a handful of government officials who spoke in confidence with The New York Times last week, many UAP sightings from the last decade or so are bound to be the result of foreign surveillance or space junk. Some incidents have officially been attributed to Chinese surveillance, which the country conducted with “relatively ordinary drone technology.” Others are thought to be associated with China but haven’t formally been classified as such. Based on what people close to the matter told the New York Times, China has a vested interest in learning how the US trains its military pilots. The best place to figure that out, Chinese intelligence agencies seem to believe, is high in the sky.
Other sightings have been attributed to space junk, or retired satellites and other equipment that remain in orbit. Even less exciting is the fact that some “flying saucers” have reportedly been weather balloons, which sometimes look a bit otherworldly from down on the ground.
But if so many UAPs are actually the result of familiar, Earth-based activity, why have they been considered UAPs for so long? “In many cases, observed phenomena are classified as ‘unidentified’ simply because sensors were not able to collect enough information to make a positive attribution,” Defense Department spokesperson Sue Gough told The New York Times. Impractical sensor optics and illusions caused by water have also made certain aerial phenomena look a lot more unique (and worrisome) than they actually are. According to Gough, the Pentagon—and likely NASA, thanks to its new independent UAP study—is working to build upon its analysis methods in the future so that normal activity doesn’t get stuck in UAP status for so long.