Since the Pentagon confirmed the existence of a top-secret UFO-hunting program, internet denizens have been trying to piece together the puzzle of this cheap X-Files reboot, starring Harry Reid and Robert Bigelow, apparently.

In a follow-up to the big story, the New York Times published a first-hand account of two Navy airmen who claim to have seen a rapidly accelerating, flying object they couldn’t explain, one night back in 2004 while flying Navy F/A-18F fighter jets near San Diego.

“It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Commander David Fravor told the Times of what he thought was a flying object in the sky. Some of what they saw has been published in a video that the Pentagon’s UFO search division studied for research, or, whatever.

But an astronomer tells Inverse what the airman more likely saw that night:

“Typically, the explanation is that the thing they are looking at is much closer or much farther than they thought, or is a reflection of some kind,” Jonathan McDowell, astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tells Inverse.

McDowell makes clear that he hasn’t reviewed the case, though, but says this is what many “UFO sightings” turn out to be. Just a mere reflection.

Jonathan McDowell: History says the "UFO" two Navy airman saw was probably a mere reflection of something else.

It’d also help experts understand what happened if the Pentagon declassified more information about the AATIP, or Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP). The few details made public obviously don’t reveal any aliens. But what’s arguably more disturbing is they show how former Democratic Senator from Nevada Harry Reid was able to get $22 million in taxpayer money to give to his billionaire friend Robert Bigelow — a true believer in aliens — and his aerospace company. The money was for “research,” which included interviewing people who claimed to have had encounters with extraterrestrial objects.

For context, Bigelow has publicly claimed that aliens have visited us, because, sure.

“Internal reviews of classified data may not have the right mix of people for this,” McDowell explains. “Better to open all the data and let skeptics bash away.”

Robert Bigelow on '60 Minutes'

Researchers at the SETI Institute in California and METI International are both working toward contacting extraterrestrial life in different ways. If the government wants to find aliens so badly, they should just pay astronomers and astrobiologists. The concept isn’t rocket science.


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