News for nerds

Outer space star Brian Cox insists you’re not in the twilight zone if you believe in UFOs.

Because he reckons there could be at least 200 billioin other civilisations in the universe.

The rock ’n’ roll physicist’s claim comes as the US Pentagon prepares to release declassified papers – billed as the real-life X-Files – later this month on the existence of UFOs.

In an interview with the Sunday Mirror he said: “There have to be other civilisations in the universe. I can’t imagine we are the only one.”

And in a BBC documentary on extraterrestrials tomorrow night he says: “We’d all like ET to be real. We’d like ET to arrive. But we don’t want Darth Vader coming down.”

Prof Cox says alien visitors may be using robot spacecraft to explore our planet in the same way NASA is now doing in the solar system. “Why send Battlestar Galactica when you could send something the size of an iPhone?”, he says.

And he reckons evidence of intelligent life in space is so hard to find because there may be only one civilisation in each galaxy.

And Earthlings fill the Milky Way’s quota.

Investigated Even the Government is getting all cosmic in these troubled times on Earth.

Sources say our own MoD is set to restart its UFO unit which was set up by Winston Churchill in 1953 and closed by defence cuts in 2009 after investigating 12,000 sightings.

But in response to a question from Tory peer Lord Black, defence minister Baroness Goldie said the British Government “would not comment ahead of the official release by the US Government”.

The Pentagon papers will detail 120 close encounters by US military pilots investigated by its Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, the Office of Naval Intelligence and the FBI.

They include testimony from US Navy fighter pilot Alex Dietrich who spoke of her own UFO encounter for the first time last month.

It happened on November 14, 2004, when the lieutenant commander, now teaching at the US Navy Academy, was stationed on aircraft carrier USS Nimitz off California.

The ship’s radar detected flying objects dropping through the sky at an unbelievable 80,000 feet in less than a second.

Dietrich and Commander David Fravor were scrambled in their F/A-18 jets and saw what they describe as something like a 40-foot white Tic Tac.

Dietrich told US news show 60 Minutes: “It jumped from spot to spot, and tumbled around in a way that was unpredictable.

“The whole time we’re on the radio with each other just losing our minds.”

She came forward to encourage other pilots to share their experiences.

Fravor said: “I wanted to see how close I could get. And when it got right in front of me it just disappeared. It accelerated like nothing I have ever seen.”

Former Navy pilot Lieutenant Ryan Graves said his F/A-18F squadron began seeing UFOs hovering over restricted airspace south-east of Virginia Beach in 2014 and again off Florida the following year.

He said: “You have rotation, you have high altitudes. You have propulsion. I don’t know what it is, frankly.”

Prof Cox believes such accounts are not pie in the sky. “Knowing what we know, it’s conceivable there are one or two civilisations in a galaxy at any one time,” he says.

“There’s certainly one in our galaxy. It’s us.”

Nick Pope, head of the MoD’s UFO unit between 1991-94, said: “Top Guns don’t impress easily. But now we’ll see some radar data, infrared, measurement and signature intelligence.”

He was dubbed the real-life Fox Mulder but says the work that he carried out, some of it still classified, was less X-Files and rather more painstaking hard graft.

Even former president Barack Obama told talk show host James Corden: “There’s footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are. We can’t explain how they moved.”

Prof Cox says the 42 radio telescopes operated by SETI – the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence in northern California – have only picked up one 72-second signal burst which constellation 10 light years away on August 15, 1977.

He says: “It came in a wavelength that SETI believes an intelligent civilisation would use.

“We’ve heard nothing since. That could be because intelligent life is extremely rare and you have to be in the right place at the right time to hear it.

“If we had detectors sensitive enough we may be able to pick up more signals. We haven’t looked closely enough.”

Lue Elizondo joined the Pentagon UAP programme in 2008 after 20 years of running intelligence operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

He said: “Imagine a technology that can fly at 13,000 miles an hour, through air and water and possibly space.

“It has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces and yet still can defy Earth’s gravity. That’s precisely what we’re seeing.”

In most cases meteors, satellites, weather balloons or even the planet Venus have been mistaken for flying saucers.

But Elizondo added that there are some encounters that are certainly not mistakes. Pope reckons that of all the sightings he investigated for the MoD UFO unit, five per cent defied any conventional expl

He added: “Incidents where there were near-misses between UFOs and commercial aircraft were of particular concern.

There are several such cases in the MoD’s files.”

Prof Cox concluded that while interstellar travel across the vast expanse of space is possible, it may not be desirable.

A spacecraft moving close to the speed of light could get to the Andromeda galaxy two million light years away and back in a human lifetime as astronauts would travel in time.

That means they would return to Earth four million years in the future. Prof Cox said: “That’s not a very palatable way to spend a vacation.”

Adventures in Space and Time: the Search for Extraterrestrial Life is on BBC2 at 9pm tomorrow night