An electrifying image flashed around the world on April 10, 2019, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and other observatories. It showed a fuzzy orange doughnut with fiery-yellow highlights aglow in the inkiness of space. It was the first ever capturing of nature’s biggest question mark — a black hole, an incomprehensible cosmic drain where light, space, matter, and time disappear, sucked into oblivion by infinite gravity, a possible clue to the ultimate fate of all creation.
The object, as massive as 6.5 billion suns, lay in a galaxy far, far away — Messier 87 in the constellation Virgo, some 55 million light years from Earth. With light traveling a little over 186,282 miles per second, that’s almost 5.88 trillion miles per year multiplied by 55 million.
Yet even at that unimaginable distance scientists were able to map its shadow and snap, or rather compile, the picture — “a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity,” in the words of New York Times cosmic affairs correspondent Dennis Overbye. The image combined data from radio antennas spread over four continents, a telescope array as big as Earth itself. The results, too voluminous for transmission even over the internet, were recorded on hard discs for analysis in Germany and the Haystack Observatory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Almost 18 months before this, in December 2017, I and two colleagues writing in The New York Times broke the story of a secret Defense Department UFO unit — the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. Funded with $22 million starting in 2007, it investigated a series of earlier close encounters with what resembled giant rounded white Tic Tacs by F-18 fighter jets from the aircraft carrier group Nimitz off the coast of San Diego in 2004. One of the objects appeared to be underwater. Ominously and mysteriously, military officers quickly scooped up the radar logs and other evidence of the encounters. In response to our reporting, the government insisted the secret program had ended in 2012. “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding,” a Pentagon spokesman said dismissively.
But despite the government’s avowal of the program’s demise, it later emerged that it continued under a new name, the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force in the Office of Naval Intelligence, into at least 2021, after an even more puzzling series of encounters from 2013 to 2015 came to light through a History Channel documentary.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was on maneuvers along the east coast of the United States when its Navy pilots captured on radar and using their thermal-imaging systems — and in a few cases eyeballed — a menagerie of hypersonic otherworldly objects. These included what looked like a spinning top or gyroscope, a flying suitcase, and a sphere-encasing cube. Some flew so close to the F-18s that pilots feared a crash and later filed official hazard reports. Creepily, the objects seemed to follow the carrier group as it cruised into the Persian Gulf on a Syrian war mission.
Why hasn’t the government used its incredibly sophisticated technology — the kind that enabled capturing a black hole for posterity — to help determine the nature of UFOs like these and the hundreds that have been sighted for decades?
Despite its decades of secrecy, we know the government has not been incurious about UFOs. Going back to the 1947 crash of something at Roswell, New Mexico, the Pentagon has continued to track at least the hardware of UFOs, if not also who, or what, may be behind the wheel, pursuing some deeply classified research, including persistent if so far unconfirmed reports that it has sequestered fragments of downed nonhuman craft for reverse engineering to unlock their secrets. That the intelligence services have fomented disinformation campaigns to unnerve global adversaries and overzealous hobbyists has multiplied the confusion.
But so far as we know, little if any of the taxpayer billions spent on investigating black holes and the spawn of creation have gone to understanding what so mystified abduction researchers like Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard professor John E. Mack (the subject of my book The Believer) — the otherworldly experiences of seemingly normal people that went against every known concept of reality.
Surely there is fertile ground for research in areas of the human brain that might harbor special powers we have yet to understand, or in studies of the cell structure and DNA of people supposedly exposed to anomalous objects and beings.
Credible, highly trained observers and the most sophisticated military technology have confirmed, at least, that there is something very strange and physically real out there. But after years of reporting, I’m nowhere closer to a satisfying explanation than I was at the beginning. It may not be surprising that science doesn’t yet know the truth about UFOs. But after almost 75 years of cover-ups and denials, from the administrations of Presidents Truman through Biden, it’s impossible not to be puzzled, to say the least, about just what it is the government is so desperate to keep hidden.
Excerpted and adapted from The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack by Ralph Blumenthal. Copyright © 2021 High Road Books, an imprint of the University of New Mexico Press.
Featured image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
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