Feds’ UFO report draws varied reactions from Pa. sky-watchers and scientists

By: - June 8, 2021 6:30 am

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A report set to be released later this month by national intelligence officials has UFO enthusiasts and scientists talking about the phenomena and its impact on science, culture, and government transparency. 

But for Butch Witkowski, founder and director of the UFO Research Center of Pennsylvania, the fervor over UFOs is nothing new. 

“From 1947 to now, Pennsylvania has logged 3,500 reports,” Witkowski, who’s spent more than three decades researching the phenomena, told the Capital-Star.

The report’s findings, which could be provided to Congress as early as this month, according to the New York Times, are said to be inconclusive about the origins and intentions of the unexplained sightings recorded by the public, as well as military and commercial pilots. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently instructs those who have witnessed unexplained phenomena to report sightings to the National UFO Research Center (NUFORC) or similar organizations. 

In Pennsylvania, 49 UFO sightings have been reported since the start of 2021. The commonwealth logged more than 300 reported sightings in 2020, according to NUFORC data. 

One report, dated Nov. 13, 2020 was submitted to NUFORC by a pilot as instructed by FAA officials after witnessing a UFO on a flight from Charlotte, N.C. to Harrisburg, Pa. 

Witkowski, who had his first UFO sighting in Tucson, Ariz. in 1989, doesn’t believe that humans anywhere possess the technology exhibited by UFOs he’s researched or sightings he’s investigated.

“What I have seen in the sky is real,” Witkowski told the Capital-Star. “It’s not something we have or China has or Russia has.”

But scientists and other researchers say the connection between UFOs and potentially extraterrestrial life is a tribute to the staying power of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis, the belief that UFOs are best explained by the presence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, in our collective psyches. 

 In fact, some researchers have argued against using UFO sightings as a means of searching for extraterrestrial life, and abandoned the term UFO in favor of a phrase that they believe allows for more possible explanations – unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). 

Jason Wright, director of the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center (PSETI) penned an article in May for Future Tense, a partnership between Slate, New America, and Arizona State University, explaining his decision to exclude UFO reports from his work. 

In it, Wright says his work with SETI and the study of UFOs are two very different things, adding that the evidence used to research both phenomena are light-years apart. 

“It’s a different standard of evidence for what counts as a good candidate for an alien technology, and one I’m not comfortable with,” Wright wrote. 

Witkowski said he understands the argument for a better term. 

“UAPs is probably used more by folks like us,” Witkowski, who has a background in law enforcement, said. “It’s a little bit of misinformation using ‘UFO,’ noting that the term can be vague.

Whatever the report finds, sky-watchers in Pennsylvania aren’t willing to rule out UFOs or UAPs quite yet. 

“It’s not going to stop us,” Witkowski told the Capital-Star. “I don’t know what they are going to admit, but to have anything coming out of the government change our minds? I doubt that.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared. Follow her on Twitter: @Wordsby_CassieM.

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