Donald Trump doesn’t like aliens much. That was apparent in recent weeks when his administration launched Voice, a hotline to encourage ‘Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement’ to out illegal aliens and report criminal immigrants. Given the xenophobia-promoting nature of that endeavour, it was poetic justice indeed when the lines were flooded with calls detailing fake sightings of aliens of the extra-terrestrial rather than the criminal kind.
As an exercise in popular resistance activism, such a response mirrored a seemingly insatiable public appetite for evidence of otherworldly life.
WikiLeaks fed that hunger in disclosing emails sent in 2015 by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell to John Podesta, the former White House chief of staff underBill Clinton, US president from 1993 to 2001, who was at that time a special adviser to serving US president Barack Obama.
Mr Mitchell, who died in February, last year, was seeking a meeting at which to discuss government disclosure of extra-terrestrial intelligence (ETI) and the Vatican’s awareness of same.
WikiLeaks disclosed another email sent by Mr Mitchell to Mr Podesta a few months later in which the former astronaut wrote: ‘Remember, our non-violent ETI from the contiguous universe are helping us bring zero point energy to Earth… They will not tolerate any forms of military violence on Earth or in space.’
While sceptics, cynics and almost everybody else might view those words as outlandish, Mr Podesta, given the content of the following tweet sent from his account, doesn’t appear to be among them: “My biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the #disclosure of the UFO files.”
Of course, there’s no shortage of world-leaders, scientists and politicians going on record to confirm a belief in ETI.
A statement attributed to one of the founding fathers of astronautics and rocketry, Hermann Oberth, is thought-provoking: “We cannot take the credit for our record advancement in certain scientific fields alone. We have been helped.”
When asked by an interviewer: “By whom?” Dr Oberth’s reply was a frank: “The people of other worlds.”
Former deputy Nasa director Albert M. Chop was another believer.
“I’ve been convinced for a long time that the flying-saucers are real and interplanetary,” he said.
Hugh Dowding, commander-in-chief of RAF Fighter Command from 1936 to 1940, seemed equally persuaded. “I am convinced that these objects do exist and that they are not manufactured by any nations on earth,” he said.
US president Richard Nixon highlighted his government’s interest in the topic when he said: “I’m not at liberty to discuss the government’s knowledge of extra-terrestrial UFOs at this time. “I am still personally being briefed on the subject.”
While his successors, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, said they saw UFOs and Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, said the “UFO phenomenon must be treated seriously”, one expert who does not believe that we’re being buzzed by UFOs is Columbia University director of astrobiology Caleb Scharf.
“It would be lovely,” he told the Irish Examiner, “but it’s too easy, too wrapped up with our imaginations and the big scary changes that took place in our world during the middle of the 20th century.”
While there is much speculation as to the existence of ETI, hoaxes cloud the matter. We could look to Nasa for guidance, but it doesn’t track or research UFOs. It even says so on its website. But that doesn’t stop conspiracy theorists from asserting that Nasa cut live-feed videos from the International Space Station (ISS) that seem to show UFOs travelling past or leaving Earth.
In one alleged excerpt from the live stream uploaded to YouTube by UFO blogger Scott C. Waring, a voice that appears to be that of an ISS astronaut can be heard supposedly talking to ground control, as what looks like a UFO comes into view on screen.
As the apparent UFO approaches, the astronaut comments somewhat cryptically: “On a personal level, I look forward to this partnership with the gospel,” to which the apparent ground control response was: “We will pray for you up there.”
While conspiracy theorists conclude that the word ‘gospel’ was the Nasa code-word for ‘alien’, the theory was deflated on ufoofinterest.org, when UFO investigator Scott Brando labelled the alleged UFO “a lens flare” or “a light reflection”.
Around that time, the site contained much purported evidence that UFO hunters’ alleged onscreen evidence is anything but. “No, Nasa did not censor images of the ISS and that object is not a UFO,” was the banner on one ufoofinterest.org entry dated July 20, 2016.
It’s curious that such an obscure website would take it upon itself to defend the massively powerful and PR conscious space agency from censorship accusations.
Remarkably, nine days later on July 29, Nasa issued a statement on its website announcing: “Nasa Television’s Space Station Live programme will be phased out in August and discontinued Sept. 1.”
With the live stream gone, attention turned to an article published in the science journal Nautilus Cosmos by Prof Scharf in which he considers the idea that alien life may be so ensconced within physics itself that we may be unable to distinguish the two, and that dark matter could perhaps be “where all technologically advanced life ends up and where most life has always been”.
His article resulted in widespread media coverage. The Sun newspaper ran a piece under the enticing headline ‘Aliens are everywhere, says Ivy League professor.’
Prof Scharf says that if complex life has happened elsewhere in the cosmos, chances are that it, like us, explores through machines or alternate forms of life that can cope with the demands of space, from radiation to time.
“Those artificial explorers might be wholly unrecognisable even if they passed through our solar system,” he concedes.
When it comes to ETI we might be looking but not seeing. Is there any way we can change that?
“Well, on a very practical, mundane, level, I think it’s always good for science to occasionally step back a little from the current dogma and at least question whether it’s on the right track,” he replies.
Asserting that “the incredible specialisation that science often demands can also be a hindrance if something genuinely new pops up”, he adds: “Or if there’s an observation about the world that we just accept and don’t poke at, but it’s really a mystery.
“In other words, we would do well to stop every now and then and examine whether we’re digging ourselves into intellectual holes.”
The whereabouts of all of the ‘intelligent’, technological life in the universe is something that intrigues Prof Scharf.
“Maybe we’ve not seen it because it’s too thin on the ground, or perhaps we don’t see it because we don’t recognise it. That’s the basis of my speculation on the nature of hyper-advanced life; that it just evolves in ways we can barely conceive of.”
While his theory is captivating, so too is that expressed by Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, Inc. who says: “If there are super intelligent aliens, they’re probably already observing us.
“That would seem quite likely, and we’re just not smart enough to realise it.”