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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. government's hotly anticipated report on UFOs does not lend any credence to the belief that intelligent aliens have visited Earth. But that idea is in many Americans' heads, and it's there to stay.

The big picture: People want to believe.

  • Early accounts of the report even suggested that it would not claim that these objects are alien in origin, but that didn't stopped the speculation that these UFOs — or unidentified aerial phenomenon (UAPs), in military speak — could be proof of intelligent alien life come calling.
  • Some experts worry that the release of the report will just continue to fuel conspiracy theories and anxiety for years to come.

What's happening: The public version of the UFO report, which Congress demanded last year, found no evidence that aliens were responsible for any of the UAPs investigated.

  • However, the investigators weren't able to find explanations for all of the reports they looked into, leaving the door open for more conspiracy theories to develop.

Why it matters: Instead of tamping down anxieties and conspiracies, it's possible the release of this report will actually stoke them even if it says they're unfounded.

  • With this report, the government is "telling people that there is something that is potentially threatening. They're also telling people that they were lied to for 80 years," psychiatrist Ziv Cohen told Axios.
  • "I think the problem is when the government tells you that [they] were lying to you, then that makes people naturally think, 'Are they telling us the truth now?'"

Between the lines: Much of the public interest around UAPs recently was stoked in 2017 when the New York Times published a widely read story about a Pentagon program to investigate UFOs.

  • Since then, new videos and eyewitness accounts have continued to stoke the public's imagination about what these UAPs could be.
  • After years of dismissiveness, the Defense Department has suddenly started taking UFO sightings much more seriously, at least publicly.
  • "I would say that from 2017 to now has been like one large, cresting wave to the present and the forthcoming report, and then within that, there are lots of little smaller, ups and downs," Sarah Scoles, author of the book They're Already Here on UFO culture, told Axios.

Reality check: There are plenty of scientists searching for life out there in the solar system and universe, but the scientific quest to find life somewhere out there has nothing to do with UFOs or UAPs.

  • NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars now is searching for possible signs of past life on the Red Planet, while the agency plans on sending new missions to Venus in the coming years that could tell us more about its habitability in the past and even present.
  • Researchers focusing on SETI — the search for intelligent life — don't assume that aliens with faster-than-light technology have visited us. Instead, they search the skies for radio waves that technologically advanced civilizations could have produced and inadvertently sent into space.

Go deeper

U.S. government releases highly anticipated UFO report

Photo: /AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. government on Friday released a landmark report, mandated by Congress, examining "unidentified aerial phenomena" witnessed by U.S. military personnel over recent years.

Driving the news: While the report found no evidence of aliens, it did find that UAPs could pose a threat to national security. The report issued by the intelligence community and the Department of Defense did not definitively determine what the military personnel saw.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jun 24, 2021 - Science

Looking at Earth like an alien planet

Earth and the Moon as seen from Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Twenty-nine potentially habitable planets orbiting relatively nearby stars were in in a position to spot Earth in the past 5,000 years and possibly detect radio waves from our planet, according to a new study.

Why it matters: If intelligent life is out there, chances are it's searching for us too and any theoretical astronomers on these worlds would have been in a position to observe our planet in much the same way as Earthlings study distant stars and planets today.

At least 3 dead after Amtrak train derails in Montana

Photo: Jacob Cordeiro/Twitter

An Amtrak train derailed near Joplin, Montana, resulting in at least three deaths and multiple injuries to passengers and crew on Saturday, per authorities and a company statement.

The big picture: 141 passengers and 16 crew members were estimated to be on the Empire Builder train, traveling from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, when eight of the 10 cars derailed about 4p.m., Amtrak said early Sunday.