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The Pentagon report on unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP) that was delivered to Congress on June 25 is intriguing enough to motivate scientific inquiry towards the goal of what these phenomena are. The nature of UAP is not a philosophical matter. It’s also not a puzzle that politicians should be asked to resolve—for the same reason that plumbers should not be asked to bake cakes. Policy makers or military personnel have insufficient training in science to solve this mystery, and hoping that they will somehow do so is like the frustrating experience of the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot.

Given these circumstances, scientists should find the answer through the standard scientific process, based on a transparent analysis of open data. The task boils down to getting a high-resolution image of UAP. A picture is worth a thousand words. More specifically, a megapixel image of the surface of an unusual object will allow us to distinguish whether it bears the metaphorical label “Made in China” or “Made in Russia” from the alternative: “Made on Exoplanet X.”

Consider an object the size of a person at a distance of one mile. Suppose we wish to resolve features as small as the width of a letter in this text. That is equivalent to resolving a thousandth of the person’s height, which would require obtaining a megapixel image. The Rayleigh criterion in optics implies that the best angular resolution of a telescope is at the so-called “diffraction limit,” roughly the wavelength of light divided by the aperture diameter. For visible light, the desired resolution in our example can be obtained by a telescope with a diameter of a meter, which can be purchased off-the-shelf online.

The telescope should be linked to a suitable camera, with the resulting data stream fed to a computer system—where optimized software would filter out the transients of interest as the telescope tiles the sky with its field of view. The initial survey could start from a large field of view, but then zoom in on the object of interest as it is tracked across the sky. UAP could change their sky position much faster than any astronomical sources located at great distances.

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