If Aliens Actually Crashed Into Earth, Would We Know About It?

The military would probably call dibs on the evidence, but any attempt at a cover-up likely wouldn't last long, experts suggest.

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Unidentified flying object in the sky
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If aliens actually crashed here on Earth, what would happen?

Would the debris, and the aliens themselves, vanish behind a massive government cover-up, only to emerge as classified military technology years later? Or would altruistic civilian scientists work together to study the alien artifacts for the good of humanity?

These questions seem like fodder for very trope-y science fiction, but last week, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer told Congress last week, with a straight face, that an unnamed source had told him that the U.S. Department of Defense (or possibly its contractors) has debris and “nonhuman biologics” from a crashed UFO.

To answer these suddenly relevant questions, Inverse spoke with Greg Eghigian, a Pennsylvania State University historian and bioethicist who specializes in the study of UFOs.

NASA and the Department of Defense have been paying much more attention to Unidentified Anamolous Phenomena, or UAPs, in recent years.

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Who Owns Crashed UFOs?

If a flying saucer crashes in Oklahoma tomorrow, just for example, what happens next?

No law or treaty spells out who gets to claim the spaceship or alien remains. The U.S. and several other countries have laws about who owns meteorites (spoiler alert for U.S. readers: if the meteorite falls on private land, it belongs to the landowner; on public land, it depends) and even debris from human-made spacecraft re-entering Earth’s atmosphere (you can’t collect rocket parts in Florida, for example). Other laws even spell out who’s liable if a de-orbiting satellite crashes on someone’s house. At the moment, though, there’s nothing on the books about who technically owns a flying saucer that crashes on U.S. soil.

Senators Chuck Schumer and Mike Rounds are hoping to change that with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. Their amendment, if it passes, would (among other things) give the U.S. federal government “eminent domain over any and all recovered technologies of unknown origin (TUO) and biological evidence of non-human intelligence (NHI) that may be controlled by private persons or entities in the interests of the public good.”

“I think the sense is that the government, particularly the military, would be the key entity that would take on this stuff,” Eghigian tells Inverse. “I don't think civilian scientists would be getting first dibs on this. I think they would be out of the loop.”

The U2, SR-71, A-12, B-2 and F117 were flight tested at the Air Force’s Groom Lake facility in Nevada, better known as Area 51.

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Could The Government Really Keep a Crashed UFO a Secret?

Does that mean the Department of Defense would whisk the crash debris (and the “nonhuman biologics,” as former Air Force intelligence officer David Grusch recently described it to Congress) away to a top-secret bunker, never to be spoken of again?

“To start with, I think there's no question that the first people on the ground are going to be policing authorities: it’s going to be the police, and it’s going to be the military,” says Eghigian. Once the crash site is secure, the next step would probably be forensic work, involving a mix of technicians, scientists, and engineers from within the military branches or from defense contractors.

It’s likely the military’s interest would be threefold: first, to determine whether the flying saucer and its builders pose a threat to humanity, especially the U.S.; second, to try to reverse engineer the technology for military use; and third, to keep anybody else from doing part two. That would almost certainly involve some secrecy — or at least, an attempt at secrecy.

“Militaries keep secrets all the time, and the intelligence community is built around, not just holding secrets, but also exposing secrets for their benefit,” says Eghigian. “If something remarkable happened, I can believe that that would be a dynamic that would emerge.”

But SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak questions how long a veil of secrecy would last on a planet surrounded by high-resolution imaging satellites.

“Actual alien craft in our airspace bigger than an office desk would likely be visible to satellites that — among other things — supply imagery to Google Earth,” he writes in a recent essay for the SETI Institute. And it’s not just satellites; more than one country’s military personnel have managed to share sensitive operational information on social media. “I still strongly maintain that alien visitation is not something that could be kept secret. The size of such a secret is just too big,” writes Shostak.

Eghigian is also skeptical that an alien cover-up could last very long, but he says the fact that so many people expect — or already believe in — a government conspiracy to hide aliens from us is, in itself, very revealing.

“So often this stuff about UFOs isn’t about UFOs at all,” Eghigian says. “It gets to the heart of how a person or an organization or group of people, your image and your idea of how government works, and what modern governments are capable of and what they do."

Definitely not actual footage.

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What Happens Next?

Once the word gets out — and Shostak and Eghigian seem to agree that it almost certainly will, one way or another — scientists around the world would be clamoring for access to the evidence, and even the Department of Defense might have some good reasons to share.

“That would probably be followed by, you would hope, lots of questions coming from journalists like you,” Eghigian says. “And then I think the civilian scientists and researchers, if we catch wind of this stuff, would then be I think clamoring for an opportunity to have a look.”

With nearly 300 research universities in the U.S. alone, not to mention the private sector, there would be a lot of researchers clamoring for dibs on alien autopsies and analyzing the metals in the flying saucer’s hull. Sorting out who should get access to study which pieces of the evidence would quickly become a sticky, and highly politicized, problem.

“One thing I think you can expect absolutely right away is this would turn political,” says Eghigian.

Of course, this story has focused on what would happen if an alien spaceship crashed somewhere in the U.S., but there’s no reason — other than nationalism — to think the U.S. is any more likely to be a UFO crash site than any other country in the world.

“There is a kind of national hubris operating here: If extraterrestrial beings are going to come to Earth, they’re going to visit us!” writes Shostak.

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