More than a month ago, a draft version of a scientific paper on the subject of unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP or UFOs) was published at Harvard. The authors of the paper were Dr. Avi Loeb, a Harvard professor, theoretical physicist, and cosmologist, working with Sean Kirkpatrick, the head of the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO). The paper speculated on the origins of some UAP and the types of technology that might be required to account for the performance characteristics some of the objects appear to display. This unsurprisingly drew the attention of both critics and supporters, given the controversial nature of the subject. Yesterday, Politico picked up the story, suggesting that Kirkpatrick’s involvement in the paper was “unusual” and potentially “raises questions about AARO’s credibility.” As someone who studies (and writes about) this subject on a regular basis, allow me to politely disagree.
The official in charge of a secretive Pentagon effort to investigate unexplained aerial incursions has co-authored an academic paper that presents an out-of-this-world theory: Recent objects could actually be alien probes from a mothership sent to study Earth.
In a draft paper dated March 7, Sean Kirkpatrick, head of the Pentagon’s All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, and Harvard professor Avi Loeb teamed up to write that the objects, which appear to defy all physics, could be “probes” from an extraterrestrial “parent craft.”
It’s unusual for government officials, especially those involved in the nascent effort to collect intelligence on recent sightings, to discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life, although top agency officials don’t rule it out when asked.
You can read the six-page paper (one of which is nothing but footnotes and references) at the link above if you wish. This isn’t a script for a new episode of Star Trek. It’s a scientific analysis, parts of which are actually quite dry. I was unable to keep up with the math at times, but I have no doubt about the capability and credibility of the authors.
Any such publication is obviously open to valid critiques and this subject is more vulnerable to such commentary than most. Politico takes the typical approach of essentially saying that the authors are a scientist and a high-ranking Pentagon official. Why would they collaborate on a paper about flying saucers and little green men? (The little men turned out to be gray rather than green, by the way, but that’s a debate for another day.)
Politico enlisted the aid of David Jewitt, a professor of astronomy at UCLA. He described the paper and “some of the claims” in it to be “highly questionable,” going on to describe Kirkpatrick’s involvement in it as “odd.” Jewitt then discounted the capability of the Air Force to study either UFOs or “aliens,” saying he wouldn’t trust them “as far as I could throw them.”
But even some of the references that are tossed around in this article are off the mark. Jewitt makes reference to the 1948 case of Capt. Thomas Mantell, who died when his plane crashed after he was dispatched to investigate a UFO seen over an airfield in Kentucky. Jewitt claims that the UFO “turned out to be Venus.” As a reference, Politico links to an Army article about the incident.
Sheerly by coincidence, the Army report quotes extensively from an article that I wrote on the subject because I had researched the case deeply, including all of the archived military records relating to it. While it’s true that Project Grudge requested the positions of both Venus and Jupiter during the investigation, both possibilities were ruled out as neither would have been visible at that time of the day. Mantell was not chasing Venus and nobody believed he was. Some speculated that it might have been a Skyhook balloon while others suspect it was something more exotic. (The final conclusion was that Mantell flew too high with insufficient oxygen and succumbed to hypoxia, losing control of his plane and crashing.)
The article that Loeb and Kirkpatrick wrote does mention the possibility of alien life and/or technology in explaining observations of some UAP, but at no point do they claim this is the answer. And Avi Loeb is one scientist who is open to all possibilities and is willing to follow the data where it takes him. Kirkpatrick, by virtue of his job, really has no option but to keep all possibilities on the table given the hundreds of reports his office is processing where they have no mundane explanations. That’s really all there is to this kerfuffle.