Over the past few months, talk of aliens and UFOs has gone way beyond grainy YouTube videos and subreddits.
As the U.S. government prepares to release a comprehensive report on sightings of unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP), humanity’s obsession with mysterious lights in the sky has moved from the shadows into the mainstream.
But it can still be hard to decipher the ambiguity of the ongoing conversation around UAPs. Case in point: What’s the difference between a UAP and a UFO?
Ahead of the report’s anticipated release this June, Inverse breaks down what to expect from the report and how to separate fact from fiction.
What you need to know first — The government report on UAPs is due to be delivered by June 25.
The report is a result of the Intelligence Authorization Act, which was enacted in December 2020 to call for the release of an unclassified and all-sources report on unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAP). This is the official military term used for unidentified flying objects.
A series of events led to this report being put together.
- In 2017, Navy videos leaked and caused a major stir online. The footage shows a cluster of odd-looking aircraft executing strange maneuvers. The Navy pilots can be heard saying: “what the f--k is that?”
- In April 2020, the Pentagon formally released the three videos, in turn admitting they were in fact captured by Navy pilots but that the government has no idea what the footage shows.
- Later in December 2020, the government made the Intelligence Authorization Act law and called for an unclassified report on UAPs to be published in 2021.
- On April 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) once again confirmed the authenticity of photos and videos of UAPs that were originally taken in July 2019.
- The footage shows mysterious lights encircling the USS Russell and the USS Omaha at the Naval Base San Diego — a major point of operations for the U.S. Navy.
What to expect from the UFO Pentagon report
Former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said in a high-profile interview with Fox News earlier this year that the report would contain information on “difficult to explain” sightings.
“We are talking about objects that have been seen by Navy or Air Force pilots, or have been picked up by satellite imagery, that frankly engage in actions that are difficult to explain, movements that are hard to replicate, that we don’t have the technology for, or are traveling at speeds that exceed the sound barrier without a sonic boom,” Ratcliffe told Fox News in March.
The report will be presented to the congressional intelligence and armed services committees on UAPs.
“They are going to say that there’s no evidence of aliens.”
But UFO investigator and long-time skeptic Mick West doesn’t have high hopes when it comes to the upcoming release of the UFO report.
“I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed because I think we're gonna see more of the same listing of cases that have happened that they can't really explain,” West tells Inverse. “But I don't think they're going to have very much in the way of deep analysis of these cases.”
In talking about the report, and the videos that have leaked, government spokespeople have maintained a neutral tone. They’ve emphasized that they are not quite sure what these objects are and have not mentioned the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
“They're going to say that there's no evidence of aliens, which is the thing that most people are interested in,” West says.
But the mere mention of the report has already reignited the UFO community, with headlines buzzing around the possibility of alien visitors.
“They can't exclude that it might be aliens,” Rodeghier says. “They can't exclude whether it's the Russians or the Chinese, but I do think they're going to say it's not our technology.”
How to read the UFO Pentagon report
There are three points to keep in mind while you read:
- UFOs and UAPs are basically the same thing.
- “Unidentified” is not synonymous with “of alien origin.”
- There are scientific reasons to be interested in the report, even if we rule out aliens.
Although the report may not exclusively mention aliens, the talk of extraterrestrials has already swarmed its release.
“Several years ago, some people decided to use UAP because they thought UFO had a negative connotation that’s too closely associated with aliens and little green men,” Rodeghier says. “But really, they do mean the same thing.”
The terms UFOs and UAPs both highlight one majorly important detail: They are unidentified. But whether or not they are a result of extraterrestrial visitors is another story.
“We already know it's not going to say aliens,” West says. “I think it will likely disappoint the UFO community who were seeking some kind of government disclosure.”
Instead, the government report will mostly be concerned with security issues rather than aliens. The likely purpose will be to identify the type of threat that these flying objects pose to the country’s defense.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t also allow for a more scientific approach to studying this phenomenon.
Nelson also reportedly directed researchers from the space agency to start investigating the aerial phenomenon.
There are several reasons why NASA would be interested in the upcoming report, according to West. It could be natural phenomena, optical effects in the atmosphere, or simply related to how people perceive things the way they do, which is something that NASA is interested in due to their work in aviation.
“And there's also the possibility that there might be aliens flying around,” he adds. “But that's very much low down on the list of possibilities.”