Recently Ended Government UFO Program Raises Questions, as JPL's and SETI's Search for ET Intelligent Life Continues

Caltech Alum Scientist weighs in on search for intelligent life in outer space

Published : Wednesday, December 20, 2017 | 6:36 AM


Screenshot from a video capturing an unidentified object flying off the coast of San Diego in 2004 has been released by the US Department of Defense.

(This article has been Updated) The whitish object on the radar screen in a just-released Defense Department video looks like a blurry ladybug, zooming along at 120 knots through the skies off San Diego in 2004 while being tracked by two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets. It could be a dust bunny on the lens, as far as the pilots know, but then one says, “There’s a whole fleet of them!”

There are no wings on the craft, no visible engines or exhaust. The object slows, stops, and begins to slowly rotate just before the video ends.

The video is one of several just released by the Defense Department’s $22 million Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a classified project begun in 2007 and ended in 2012. Its purpose was, as its name alluded, was to find and analyze UFO threats. It was one of many similar 20th Century Defense Department programs designed to deal with a seemingly never-ending catalog over the years of UFO sightings from citizens, pilots, and even astronauts.

Seth Shostak is Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute

Seth Shostak is Senior Astronomer for the SETI Institute and former Director of Center for SETI Research when it was a separate department. Caltech photo

According to a New York Times story this week, the Pentagon ended funding for the effort five years ago, but the program remains in existence, somewhat. Officials with the program still investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while carrying out their other regular Defense Department duties.

Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence officer, ran the program for five years but recently resigned in protest of the Department’s decreasing interest and funding. Meanwhile, JPL’s Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project is a small part of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope project that continues a portion of the search for life beyond our solar system on a project where school children use the radio telescope to look for radio signals potentially of extraterrestrial origin.

The SETI team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena has a very small project, but JPL scientists and school children are doing real science research and they’re collecting real data.

Steven Levin, Project Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for Juno which is a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter and also the lead scientist for Gavern, which is for Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope project, said, “So for this particular project, we have a radio telescope that belongs to NASA that’s used to do science and education combined, that’s what the Gavern project is,” Levin continued, “the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope project and one of the science campaigns is to take that telescope and search the areas in the Galactic Plane where most of the stars in our galaxy could be seen and look for radio signals.”

As a school project it can’t be beat.

Levin said, “I really like this as an educational program because one of the things teachers wanna do is of course is engage the kids. And if I go to a classroom and I say today, we’re gonna look for life in outer space, I have 100% engagement.”

The bulk of the SETI heavy lifting is carried out by the SETI Institute which is no longer a NASA project but is privately funded.

Caltech alumnus Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the S.E.T.I. Institute in Mountain View, California, spoke about how that search is going, at least in his department.

Firstly, said Shostak, “We don’t investigate UFOs.”

“My personal opinion is that while there are literally tens of thousands of sightings every year,” Shostak said, “the number of people who don’t bother to report it is, I’m sure, far higher. I get phone calls essentially every day from people thinking they have seen something [that] might possibly be extraterrestrial craft.”

The skeptical scientist continued, “I’ve never been convinced by any of these things, but lots of people see UFOs and … one third of the public believes that the aliens are not only out there … but that they’re also here; they’re buzzing the skies.”

“And,” adds Shostak, “a large fraction of them think that the government knows, and it’s keeping it from them, so this is a big story for them.”

So, does Shostak think that perhaps the government is keeping UFO secrets from the public?

“Well,” he begins, “I’ve worked for the government, but I’ve not been terribly impressed with their ability to keep secrets.”

“Look, the Roswell story, which was 1947, right?” Shostak goes on. “That was 60 years ago. And to think that all this time, we’re being visited by these other beings from a different world, and somehow, the feds have managed to scoop up all the good evidence and that’s why, when you go to the science museum down there at USC whatever, you don’t find a big exhibit about this because they’ve kept all the good evidence, stacked up at Area 51 or wherever they stack it up?”

Shostak said he finds that scenario very hard to believe. Besides, that would also likely mean every other government in the world has successfully covered up similar information.

So, according to Shostak, “My personal opinion is we’re not being visited.”

But while we are apparently not being regularly visited, Shostak won’t discount the idea that there may be other life out in space.

“If I didn’t think that the odds weren’t good that there was not only life out there, but intelligent life, why would we do this?” he offered, referring to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project.

Shostak continued, explaining that there a trillion planets in the Milky Way, “our galaxy.”

“And we can see 2 trillion other galaxies, each with a trillion planets,” he said.

Perhaps Shostak might find evidence at the upcoming Alien-Con convention, set for June 2108, and described as “an amazing lineup of distinguished experts, the stars of “Ancient Aliens,” and fan favorites from TV and film, brought together to explore the mysteries of ancient civilizations, extraterrestrial existence, and the unexplained phenomena of our universe.”

The event will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center, June 15–17, 2018, will feature UFO afficionado Nick Pope; Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, founder of the Archaeology Astronautics, and SETI Research Association; Erich Von Däniken, author of Chariots Of The Gods; Rabbi Ariel B. Tzadok, Kabbalah religious expert, and many others, all pondering the “We are not alone” notion.

Astronomer Shostak will be busy that weekend, looking at the skies.



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