When scary things appear in the sky, Witnesses are often reluctant to report them for fear of being ridiculed by others, especially in the halls of government.

Fewer people laugh these days.

Unidentified flying objects, or as the government calls them, have been taken more seriously by US officials in recent years, beginning in 2007 with a small, clandestinely funded program that examined reports of military encounters.

The program, first reported in December 2017 by the New York Times, was revived last summer by the Department of Defense as the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. The department said the task force’s mission is to “discover, analyze and catalog” sightings of strange objects in the sky that “could potentially pose a threat to US national security.” Service members were re-encouraged to speak up when they saw something, with the idea that removing the stigma behind reporting something strange would give authorities a better idea of ​​what is out there.

Then, late last year, President Donald J. Trump signed a $ 2.3 trillion grant package, which included a provision inserted by lawmakers, asking the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to submit an unclassified report on it Submit What the Government Knows About UFOs Version of this report is due to be released this month. (Senior administrators who were briefed on the report’s findings told the Times the report would draw few firm conclusions, but found no evidence that the aerial sightings were extraterrestrial spacecraft. Read more about it here .)

As the public starts asking more questions about UFOs, it seems that more officials will be ready to answer them.

“There are a lot more sightings than were published,” former director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe told Fox News in March. Quite a few of them, he said, “are difficult to explain”.

John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, said on a podcast last year that some of the unexplained sightings “could be some kind of phenomenon that is the result of something we don’t yet understand and that might involve some type of activity” . some of which could say that they represent a different form of life. “

The lead-up to the expected release of the report has received quite a bit of mainstream media attention in recent weeks, including a 13,000-word article in New Yorker in April and a segment in CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Even former President Barack Obama admitted last month on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” that there were “objects in the sky that we don’t know exactly what they are.” (President Biden dismissed a question about UFOs a few days later.)

The first thing you need to know is that “UFO” doesn’t automatically mean “Alien”. As the name suggests, UFO refers to any aerial phenomenon with no immediate explanation. Although reported sightings often happen around the world, the vast majority turn out to be things like stars, satellites, planes, drones, weather balloons, birds, or bats.

The modern history of UFO sightings generally begins on June 24, 1947 when Kenneth Arnold, a private pilot from Idaho, reported seeing nine circular objects moving at supersonic speeds near Mount Rainier. Newspapers described them as “flying saucers,” a term that sparked popular imaginations. Although Mr. Arnold appeared to be a credible witness, government officials were skeptical.

Nonetheless, the government began a secret study called Project Sign, fearing that such objects might be advanced Soviet weapons. This was followed by the Blue Book project, which examined around 12,000 cases from 1952 to 1969, 701 of which could not be explained. It ended with a report that said UFOs were not worth investigating further. As far as publicly known, there were no more official government efforts to investigate UFOs until the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program launched in 2007.

Sightings of unidentified objects in the United States increased during the coronavirus pandemic as people who spent long days at home turned to gaze at the sky. According to the National UFO Reporting Center, reports rose about 15 percent over the past year to more than 7,200. As in other years, almost everyone had earthly explanations, the center said.

In November 2004, two Navy fighter jets from the USS Nimitz encountered a whitish, oval ship of similar size off the coast of San Diego, floating over the sea, moving in unusual ways. As one of the jets began a circular descent to take a closer look, the object – which had no wings or apparent propulsion system – rose toward it and whizzed away.

“It accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Cmdr. David Fravor, one of the pilots, told the Times in 2017.

Commander Fravor told another pilot that night that he had no idea what he had seen: “It had no springs, wings, or rotors, and outperformed our F-18s.”

But he added, “I want to fly one.”

Other cases include a spinning disk hovering over Chicago O’Hare Airport in 2006 and two “sunlight colored” objects reported by a professional pilot in England in 2007, The New Yorker reported.

A video of the Nimitz incident along with two from 2015 were officially released by the Ministry of Defense last year. Recently, the department confirmed that videos and images leaked by a documentary filmmaker were captured by naval personnel in 2019 and examined by the task force.

As provided in the appropriations package, the report should include a detailed analysis of the UFO data held by the Task Force and other government agencies. The report is also designed to flag any unidentified aerial phenomena that might be viewed as a threat to national security, including whether they can be “attributed to one or more foreign adversaries”.

Senior administrators who were briefed on the contents of the report told the Times that the report still fails to explain the unusual movements that have puzzled scientists and the military, but that it concludes that the vast majority of more than 120 incidents of failure to do so in the past two decades were caused by an American military or other advanced US government technology.

There is a growing call for transparency in Washington, including from a bipartisan political action committee established last month.

A key supporter of the UFO research effort was Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senator from Nevada who, as the Senate Majority Leader, secured $ 22 million in funding for the 2007 program.

In an essay for the Times earlier this month, Mr. Reid said that he has had an interest in UFOs since attending a conference in 1996 (to the dismay of his staff who told him to stay away from the subject). He said the program was necessary because “an unofficial taboo on open discussion about encounters could affect our national security and hinder the opportunities for technological progress”.

There is also support for UFO research among the current senators, including Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida who added the language to the funding package requesting the government report.

Mr Rubio told 60 Minutes that there should be a process where reports of UFOs are “cataloged and constantly analyzed until we get some answers”.

“Maybe it has a simple answer,” he said on the program. “Maybe not.”