From the summer of 2014 through March 2015, The New York Times reported last week, Navy pilots regularly encountered impossibly fast and agile aircraft while training over the East Coast. To this day, they have no explanation for them.

They are, in the truest sense of the phrase, unidentified flying objects.

As a result of the reports, made by several highly trained aviators with years of experience in the military’s top aircraft, the Navy issued pilots new guidelines for dealing with unexplained aerial phenomena.

The new guidelines formalized a process that has taken place for decades. The public airing of these guidelines, and the confirmation in 2017 of a government operation tasked with investigating aerospace threats, is seen as an indication that the military has accepted the existence of UFOs — whatever their origin — and is taking them seriously.

That’s good for a few reasons — most of them not having much to do with fears over a real-life “War of the Worlds.”

First, it’s healthy to remove the stigma from unexplained phenomena. There is no reason for the U.S. government to have so much secrecy around these sightings when the military, astronomers and everyday Americans have been documenting them for decades. While most of these sightings eventually can be explained – as something innocuous, such as a trick of the light, or a failing of our own human senses — studies have found 5 percent to be reliable yet inexplicable.

We should be able to talk about these mysteries – all of us, government included – without such forced secrecy. The government shouldn’t get to hide this stuff from us just for the sake of hiding it.

Second, there are real national security concerns. Treating these sightings as secrets, or laughable, does not help the military deal with them.

The Navy pilots interviewed by the Times said the aircraft they encountered could reach 30,000 feet and fly at hypersonic speeds, yet there was no sign of an engine or exhaust. The UFOs could stay up there all day, while the Navy jets could only fly for an hour. They could stop, accelerate and turn much too fast for human pilots to endure.

When the sightings first occurred, pilots thought they could have been the result of mistaken radar, which had been recently upgraded. When they began picking them up visually, the pilots thought they might be dealing with high-tech drones from some classified program. When the “drones” almost collided with them multiple times over multiple altitudes, they knew it wasn’t their own government flying these things.

Even if it wasn’t something out of “Independence Day,” it got the military’s attention. If some foreign adversary is using such advanced technology, they need to know.

And in the tiny chance that it is something more, we shouldn’t hide from that realization. The size and age of our galaxy makes the presence of other life forms mathematically possible. If some civilization could reach us, they would certainly be more technologically advanced.

And such a meeting wouldn’t be unprecedented in world history. When geography was enough to keep peoples unaware of each other’s presence, something like alien meetings occurred regularly. The Romans were scared of the 7-foot-tall, pale white beings who lived in the forests to their far north. Eastern Europeans thought they were being attacked by an alien force when the Mongols first swept through. And what is the European settlement of the New World but the collision of two vastly different worlds previously unknown to each other?

Maybe with a little preparation, humans — and whoever else — can get it right this time.


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