The term UFO, which stands for unidentified flying object, has historically been used to describe aircraft that cannot be easily identified or explained [1]. The modern UFO craze in the United States dates back to the late 1940s and early 1950s, coinciding with the development of new technology such as rockets and missiles.

Today, the U.S. government uses the phrase unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), partially to dissociate the term from science fiction aliens and encourage greater scientific study. Many of these “objects” end up being strange atmospheric phenomena or camera equipment tricks [2].

Despite thousands of unconfirmed UAP sightings by the public each year, until recently, there was no formal way for the U.S. to track these sightings. The lack of interest began to change in 2020 when the Pentagon officially released three videos taken from fighter jet cockpits showing unidentified objects moving in mysterious ways. In 2021, Congress mandated the creation of an assessment on UAPs. The report identifies several potential explanations for UAPs, including clutter, natural atmospheric phenomena, and secret technologies being developed by the U.S. or other nations [2].

Recently, American fighter jets have shot down several objects in or near U.S. airspace, following the Feb. 4, 2023, shooting down of a Chinese balloon suspected of spying on the U.S. When asked about these events, Air Force General Glen VanHerck, responsible for overseeing North American airspace, refused to rule out extraterrestrial forces at play. However, other military officials later clarified that otherworldly origins are not a serious consideration. The comment highlighted the U.S. government’s lack of knowledge about these objects [1][3].

Countries like China and Russia can gather a significant amount of intelligence using satellites, but balloons and other unidentified objects represent another way to collect sensitive data. If the U.S. military or government can’t identify a new technology, it is easy to classify an object as a UAP. In 2022 alone, the Pentagon received 247 new UAP reports, about half of which were eventually attributed to balloons or “balloon-like entities.” [2].

It is easy to miss UAPs if people don’t know what to look for, as appears to be the case with previous spy balloons that China has sent around the world. Whether future UAPs are balloons, secret technology or something else, there will continue to be a greater national focus on studying UAPs and an increasing ability to detect them. It is likely that reports will continue to pour in, and U.S. aircraft will keep tracking them down [2].

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