One can’t help but wonder how many educated and intelligent people out there, or the percentage thereof, would ever have taken the concept of UFOs — oops, excuse me, in the official jargon, UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) — seriously. Simply considering the laws of physics as we understand them and given the relatively brief lifespan of human beings renders them inconceivable, if not preposterous.

Albert Einstein’s special theory of relatively famously dictates that no known object can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum, which is 186,000 miles/sec, or 299,792 km/sec. (Certain modern-day physicists theorize that spacecraft in a “warp bubble” could travel faster than light. Thus far though, from what I can tell, no one has demonstrated a mechanism by which one could accelerate a warp drive beyond the speed of light.)

Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our own star, the sun, is 4.25 light years away. The more famous Alpha Centauri is 4.35 light years away. Our sun and those two “neighbors” are at the relative periphery of the Milky Way, our massive celestial galaxy that is some 100,000 light years in diameter. Although other smaller galaxies are closer, the awe-inspiring Andromeda galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to ours. Anybody care to guess how long it would take to get there? Answer: 2.5 million light years.

There are an estimated 125 billion galaxies in the observable universe, the radius of which is estimated to be about 45 billion light years. If these unimaginably vast figures and distances don’t reduce most folks to quivering masses of existential uncertainty, I don’t know what would.

When contemplating UFOs, one needs to consider that our planet Earth is not exactly where the action is within our own galaxy, an average-sized large galaxy with an estimated 200 billion to 400 billion stars, and the Milky Way is not necessarily where the action is in terms of the universe. In other words, we are not at the center of the universe, if it’s true that the universe is finite. And yet not everyone believes it is finite.

Thus far, astronomers have discovered more than 3,200 stars with planets orbiting them throughout the Milky Way galaxy. They have further uncovered evidence of planets orbiting stars in distant galaxies. Given the large number of known stars within our own galaxy with orbiting planets and the presumed huge number outside of it, one can easily imagine the presence of intelligent life somewhere among them.

Get a weekly recap of South Carolina opinion and analysis from The Post and Courier in your inbox on Monday evenings.

It’s much more difficult to imagine and understand how or why intelligent life from so far away would hone in on planet Earth as a destination point — much less actually get here. Accordingly, we tend to dismiss all that as outrageously impossible and laugh at all the goofy cartoon renderings and obviously photoshopped pictures that have shown up over the decades.

But now we’re seeing in recent weeks that a lot of very smart people from such lofty publications as Reuters, New York magazine, The New Yorker, Barron’s and top newspapers have written detailed analyses of evidence pertaining to UFOs and specifically those 144 sightings by U.S. government personnel and other sources between 2004 and 2021 — sightings that often were made during military training exercises. (Only one of the 144 sightings was ever satisfactorily explained.)

And then the U.S. government, once openly dismissive of UFO sightings that for decades have sparked popular imagination, issued a report on June 25 with the rather stunning admission that defense and intelligence analysts lack sufficient data to determine the nature of mysterious flying objects observed by American military pilots, including whether they are advanced earthly technologies, atmospherics or of an extraterrestrial origin. According to the report, unusual behavior exhibited by the UAPs involved the ability to remain stationary in high lofted winds, move against the wind, maneuver sharply or move at considerable speed without discernible means of propulsion.

The report therefore marks a turning point for the government after spending decades deflecting, debunking and discrediting observations of UFOs and “flying saucers” that date back at least to the 1940s. In a lead-up to the report, the Department of Defense made clear that they take the issue seriously, although sidestepped questions about any potential extraterrestrial origins. The report draws no firm conclusions and says nothing about aliens. It does list five possible explanations for UAP (airborne clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, U.S.-developed technology, foreign technology and “other”).

Skeptics tend to believe that what people are seeing is technology we already understand. However, in The New Yorker’s exceptionally long story detailing the history of the movement to take UFOs seriously, a former Pentagon official pushed back against the skeptics, saying (they) “don’t have the whole story. There’s data (they) will never see — there’s much more than I would include in a classified document.”

I don’t know … Include me among the skeptics — but not so skeptical as to not be just a little creeped out by the Pentagon’s report.

This content was originally published here.