An unclassified image that’s reportedly been circulated among U.S. intelligence agencies shows what appears to be unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), the Pentagon’s term for unidentified flying objects. The object in the photo has been described by U.S. officials as silver and “cube-shaped,” according to a report from The Debrief, which first shared the image.
The leaked photo dates back to 2018, when it materialized in an intelligence report from the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF), the Department of Defense’s (DoD) official unit that investigates UAP sightings.
In August, the Pentagon approved the establishment of the task force as the first on-the-books government UFO program since a 2000s-era unit lost its funding in 2012. However, multiple sources confirmed with Popular Mechanics earlier this year that the unit remained active in secrecy after its shuttering. According to The Debrief, the UATPF has briefed government and military officials on UAP matters for the last two years; the newly surfaced image appeared in a report issued by the task force during that time.
The Debrief’s Tim McMillan, a contributor to Popular Mechanics, learned of the photo’s existence from a “defense official who has been verified as being in a position to have access to the UAPTF’s intelligence reports,” he writes. Three other government officials confirmed with McMillan that the photo, which was shared on a secure network used by the U.S. Intelligence Community, comes from a 2018 task force report.
A military pilot reportedly encountered the object while flying over the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast of the U.S. in 2018 and captured it with their personal cell phone. It’s likely that a backseat weapons system operator on an F/A-18F Super Hornet took the photo of the object, which McMillan calls “inverted” and “bell-shaped,” and describes it having “ridges or other protrusions along its lateral edges, extending toward its base.”
It’s possible the object may be a GPS dropsonde, a sensor on a parachute that provides info on the vertical profile of a storm. But as McMillan points out (and confirms with an atmospheric researcher), the actual dropsonde doesn’t appear in the photo—just the potential square-cone parachute. And there would obviously have to be an aircraft above the object to drop it, and no such craft is visible in the image.
Is the object a research balloon? Probably not, two defense officials tell McMillan. “Pilots who encountered the object described that, unlike a balloon under similar conditions, the object was completely motionless and seemingly unaffected by ambient air currents,” he writes.
Essential UFO Reading
While we await further details about the mysterious object in the photo, it continues to be a busy time for the advancement and disclosure of UAP research.
In a July New York Times article, Harry Reid, the former Nevada senator who was instrumental in funding the government’s original UFO program, said he believes “crashes of objects of unknown origin may have occurred and that retrieved materials should be studied.” Reid said he came to the conclusion that “there were actual materials that the government and the private sector had in their possession,” according to reports.
In the same Times article, the astrophysicist Eric Davis, who consulted with the Pentagon’s original UFO program and now works for the defense contractor Aerospace Corporation, said that after he examined certain materials, he came to the conclusion that “we couldn’t make [them] ourselves.” In fact, Davis briefed a DoD agency as recently as March about retrieving materials from “off-world vehicles not made on this Earth.”
The UAPTF will investigate matters like these—as long as President Donald Trump doesn’t veto the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) the annual bill that sets the budget and policies for the U.S. military.
The NDAA, which must be passed and signed before Congress adjourns on January 3, includes appropriations for fiscal year 2021 for the UAPTF and supports its efforts to reveal any links that UAP “have to adversarial foreign governments, and the threat they pose to U.S. military assets and installations.” But a Trump veto of the NDAA may stall the momentum of the task force.
As for other UAP-related events this year, in April, the U.S. Navy officially released three previously leaked videos taken by Navy pilots that indeed show UAP—but the service also said the footage should have never been released to the public in the first place.
The Pentagon released the videos in order to “clear up any misconceptions by the public on whether or not the footage that has been circulating was real, or whether or not there is more to the videos,” a spokesperson told Popular Mechanics at the time.
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