As most readers know, the question of modern UFO sightings and supposed alien encounters doesn’t interest me very much, so this was a bit of a slog for me. We open on October 19, 2017 on Maui, with the discovery of a long, unusually shaped space object hurtling through the solar system. Although it is a natural asteroid, albeit from another star system, there was speculation at the time that it might have been an ancient UFO or purposely sent by space aliens. More interesting is the fact that the astronomer in charge of the Hawaiian observatory that discovered the object agreed to appear on Ancient Aliens and humiliate her profession by associating genuine science with groundless fantasy. I imagine that she thinks she is popularizing science, and that is certainly the reason that Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute appears on this show yet again, even though he testified to Congress that he believes Ancient Aliens is a pack of lies. The show compares the cigar-shaped UFO to a famous woodcut of the so-called “Nuremberg UFO fight,” which is not a depiction of UFOs in battle but an exaggerated drawing of sun dogs made by an artist who wasn’t there.
Giorgio Tsoukalos says that the speculation about the asteroid’s potential artificial origins was exciting because it was the first time astronomers embraced “our” idea of ancient astronauts. This certainly isn’t true—Percival Lowell’s Mars claims come to mind. This leads into a discussion of the famous SETI protocols explaining how astronomers should handle what to do if they uncovered an alien signal. According to the talking heads, there is no publicly available plan for what governments would do in the event of alien contact, but they suspect that the plans exist in secret. It might be true, but it would be less consequential than the secret plans for other remote contingencies, such as a nuclear attack on the Capitol during the State of the Union address, that governments plan for but don’t ever expect to actually happen. The hypothetical existence of plan implies nothing about the reality of space aliens.
The second segment revisits the Pentagon’s UFO investigation program that ran from 2007 to 2012, a subject we just saw two weeks ago in the two-hour season premiere, which focused entirely on the subject. Repeating the material so quickly speaks to the poverty of Ancient Aliens, which is less a set of episodes at this point than a collection of segments spliced together into hour-long collections. The show delivers a number of paranoid conspiracies about what they imagine the U.S. military knows about UFOs or how they interact with UFOs, with speculation about how soldiers might battle space aliens. I couldn’t help but flash back to Starship Troopers and imagine hordes of fascist youths battling Lovecraftian bug-like monsters. Then the show discusses whether there are secret diplomatic protocols for meeting friendly aliens, and this in turn reminded me of The Twilight Zone and Mars Attacks.
After this, the show relates how Pope Francis once said that if space aliens were real, he would welcome them into the Catholic Church. While this was meant as a statement of Catholic universalism—the word “catholic” literally means universal—the talking heads speculate that this was instead part of a concerted effort to normalize space aliens ahead of disclosure.
The narrator informs us that religious leaders know about space aliens because angels and demons from sacred texts were space aliens and therefore leaders are already aware of ancient encounters. This is not entirely what is going on; Catholic speculation about space aliens and alien worlds has a long history, and the Church was not always associated with anti-scientific repression. The segment ends with an odd claim that the “Messiah” returning in the future was based on space aliens coming and going in the past and promising to return. The only similarity seems to be the idea of returning, but since the aliens’ “return” is a modern adaptation of the old story, the show basically committed itself to circular reasoning, or, less charitably, a circle of sexual self-pleasure.
The third segment covers panspermia—the idea that Earth life arrived from another planet in the form of organic material hitching a ride on space rocks—and discusses claims from Milton Wainwright about alien microbes in the upper atmosphere. I covered this in 2015, when the claim first achieved public notice, and again in 2017 when Robert Bauval wrote about it in his book on panspermia. Josh Gates also covered it in his Expedition Unknown miniseries about extraterrestrials. Ancient Aliens itself discussed panspermia on at least four previous episodes, including one at the end of last season. Wainwright has made several unusual and generally unsupported claims for alien material on Earth, and he is a conspiracy theorist who believes that all world scientists have conspired to hide the fact that Darwin did not invent evolutionary theory. The segment ends with a discussion of protocols in place to stop spacecraft from contaminating Earth with any microbes from space.
The fourth segment goes back to Sputnik and explains the creation of NASA in response to Soviet space exploration. It covers the familiar story of the so-called Brookings Report commissioned by NASA in 1960 to explore the question of what would happen if extraterrestrial life was ever encountered. The report speculated that evidence of ancient aliens might be found on the Moon or Mars, and it counseled a controlled release of factual information to avoid creating panic. The show cites the myth that Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast set off a nationwide panic—the myth was created by newspapers to attack radio—as proof that people will panic in the face of aliens. John Podesta, the former Clinton chief of staff, pops up again to say that he thinks that Americans could handle the truth. Given that this seems not to apply to any other action of government, where lying is endemic, this seems more like an applause line than a policy.
After this, the segment describes the famous golden records shot into space on the probe Voyager in 1977 on the off chance that space aliens might find it so they could learn about the Earth. The records contained sounds and images of human beings and the Earth, along with directions to Earth. The narrator speculates that the government knew aliens existed from “previous” encounters and therefore chose to communicate with them, but this would actually make the records irrelevant since, if they had been to Earth, the aliens had no need for them.
The fifth segment revisits the Brookings Report a second time, and then relates them to the fake MJ-12 documents. Linda Moulton Howe believes, falsely, that Truman ordered an investigation into the Roswell crash and formed the MJ-12 group to develop protocols for dealing with aliens. As you will recall, MJ-12 material appeared in the season premiere, as it did in a dedicated MJ-12 episode last year, and it is still as fake a hoax as any. The U.S. government declared them fake. Scholars declared them fake. Even many ufologists agree they are fake. Ancient Aliens doesn’t even acknowledge that their authenticity is questionable. After this, the show revisits old, old UFO encounters from the 1960s, but with added fake material from hoax government documents that have circulated online about how these early encounters were really diplomatic missions from space ambassadors with faulty GPS. I wish I were making that up, but the documents state that the aliens “got the coordinates wrong” for their diplomatic mission. I am trying to imagine space aliens hunched over a chart of the Earth with a compass and a pencil plotting out a round trip journey to MJ-12 headquarters and back. Funny how aliens can make it all the way from other stars but once they get here, they can’t find their way around and crash into every field and stream in the country.
The final segment discusses the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs’ efforts to draft protocols for how to handle encounters with space aliens. The story faded away after a few days when the UN declined to discuss the matter further. David Childress sees this as a conspiracy and asserts that we humans are already in contact with space aliens and have exchanged ambassadors with them. Tsoukalos says that Native Americans (all of them, apparently) believe in thirteen inhabited planets (as a general rule, they do not), of which we are the “planet of children” (we are not—I have no idea where he got this from), and that therefore we would be compatible with space aliens since we are genetically related to them. The show ends by reminding us that someday we will be the aliens visiting another world and setting up an embassy there.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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