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As with many, I’m waiting with intense interest a report due to land with the USA Congress in the next few days from the Government Intelligence arm on what is being referred to as “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena”, basically information on UFOs with extensive content from American military pilots.


Unusual for such intelligence and security obsessed agencies, the Pentagon has in recent years actually released video showing ‘unidentified’ flying objects exhibiting speed and manoeuvrability exceeding known aviation technologies. This has been interpreted by many as being a tacit nod in agreement that there is indeed something out there beyond human control and they cannot definitively rule out extra-terrestrial origins. Indeed, if this report is to have the expected content, it marks a critical change in reality for the U.S. military after decades of debunking and discrediting stories of unidentified flying objects, even with so many such occurrences not only in the USA, but on a global basis. In fact, the US Air Force investigated and catalogued over 12,000 sightings under its Project Blue Book program, categorising 700 cases as “unidentified” before the project ended in 1969.


I guess the real question that this report, and the many, many theories that have been put forward over the years, is that does intelligent extra-terrestrial life actually exist? Obviously, we don’t know for sure, but it seems we want to believe that it does. Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”. The basic human need not to be alone isn’t just about the possibilities of extra-terrestrial life, but even before space travel and the discovery of other planets, François-Marie d’Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, stated (obviously in French!) ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’, substituting in this case religion for science.


In reality, if life can exist in some of the harshest conditions on Earth, there is an extremely high probability that other interplanetary lifeforms have evolved and possibly escaped their places of origin. It seems likely that primitive life forms on the planets of other stars, evolving over many billions of years, would occasionally develop intelligence, civilization and a high technology. We are, after all, talking about immense periods in time, when species, civilisations and even planets and stars have come and gone. The odds in favour of other living inhabitants of the universe are extremely high, the only thing seeming to limit any contact being time and distance. Indeed, at a rough estimate, there are a million civilizations in our galaxy at or beyond humankind’s present level of technological development. If they are distributed randomly through space, the distance between us and the nearest civilization should be about 300 light-years. Hence any information conveyed between the nearest civilization and our own will take a minimum of 300 years for a one-way trip and 600 years for a question and a response. But these civilisations may also have a different concept of time and timescales, and lifespans well beyond our three score and ten.


Given the immense strides humans have made in technologies in such a limited life span of the species, it seems to me unescapable that we have had ‘visitors’ who would have had much more time to develop and will continue to receive them, it is almost certain that our mortality means they will come to us before we can find them.


UPDATE:  And here’s the Report. Make of it what you will.

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