UAlbany News Podcast

The Search for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Off the West Coast, with Kevin Knuth

Episode Summary

Kevin Knuth is an associate professor of physics whose research focuses on exoplanets, and quantum mechanics and relativity. He is a former computer scientist in the Intelligent Systems Division of NASA’s Ames Research Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he designed algorithms to analyze astrophysical data as well as earth science data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Knuth is preparing to lead a team of scientists to track unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) off the coast of California.

Episode Notes

Kevin Knuth is an associate professor of physics whose research focuses on exoplanets, and quantum mechanics and relativity.

He is a former computer scientist in the Intelligent Systems Division of NASA’s Ames Research Center in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he designed algorithms to analyze astrophysical data as well as earth science data from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Knuth is preparing to lead a team of scientists to track unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs) off the coast of California.

He is pairing up with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists including Deep Prasad, CEO of the quantum computing company ReactiveQ, and Rizwan Virk, executive director of the startup accelerator PlayLabs@MIT, for the project.

Read more on Knuth’s work.

Knuth is also a member of the Scientific Coalition for Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Studies (SCU), a research organization comprising scientists, former military officers and law enforcement personnel. The group issued a letter to several members of Congress this week containing a series of recommendations for the advancement of UAP research and the public dissemination of the data.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/Sejong Univ./Hur et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Full transcript of the SCU's letter to Congress:

Scientific Exploration of Anomalous Aerospace Phenomena

Subject: Non-profit research organization calls for widespread scientific studies of unidentified aerospace phenomena (UAP).

From: Scientific Coalition for Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Studies (SCU)


The Scientific Coalition for Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena Studies (SCU) is committed to the rigorous scientific study of the UAP phenomenon. SCU believes that all data regarding unidentified aerospace objects should be made available in the public domain so that it can be properly investigated by the established scientific community. This is currently not the case with military and other government agency sightings and encounters.

The SCU conducts and publishes peer-reviewed research into UAPs, and encourages the open publication of other agencies’ and institutions’ scientific research into these phenomena. In two recent cases investigated by SCU, from 2004 and 2015 involving the interaction of UAPs with F/A-18 Super Hornets and Navy Carrier Strike Groups, SCU discovered that radar, radio, and other EM data collected by the US Navy had not been released to the public. Based on SCU’s preliminary investigations of these events, it believes that a full scientific investigation of the existing data would be able to uncover valuable information relating to both national security and advancement of our understanding of physics, aerospace engineering, and our world. The SCU recommends the following:

- that Congress should allocate public research funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD), and/or NASA to study these phenomena, whose results would then be published in the public-domain;

- that Congress should require all government branches (e.g. Armed Services, NASA, NORAD, etc.) to disseminate all data (electronic and observational), and consequent research on these phenomena, which does not compromise our national security interests, to the open scientific community;

Scientific Exploration of Anomalous Aerospace Phenomena

The SCU is a research organization composed largely of scientists, former military officers, and law enforcement personnel with technical experience and backgrounds in investigation and who have studied UAP phenomena extensively.

The following SCU affiliates and supporters have endorsed the above statements:

SCU Affiliates

SCU Supporters

The UAlbany News Podcast is hosted and produced by Sarah O'Carroll, a Communications Specialist at the University at Albany, State University of New York, with production assistance by Patrick Dodson and Scott Freedman.

Have a comment or question about one of our episodes? You can email us at, and you can find us on Twitter @UAlbanyNews.

Episode Transcription

Sarah O'Carroll:    Welcome to the UAlbany News Podcast. I'm your host Sarah O'Carroll. I have with me Kevin Knuth, an associate professor of physics and a former NASA research scientist. Knuth, whose research focuses on exoplanets and quantum mechanics and relativity is leading a team of scientists to track unidentified aerial phenomenon or UAPs off the coast of California.

NEWS CLIP #1:       New reports, five pilots coming forward over the weekend saying they've had multiple mid-air encounters with high flying fast moving objects.

NEWS CLIP #2:       New York Times speaking with five Navy pilots who've all said they've encountered UFOs during training missions up and down the East Coast.

NEWS CLIP #3:       Look at that thing dude. That's not [inaudible 00:00:53] is it? [inaudible 00:00:54] Look at that thing. It's rotating.

Sarah O'Carroll:    Kevin, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Kevin Knuth:        Oh, thank you for having me.

Sarah O'Carroll:    Can you share any theories about where these UFOs or UAPs might be coming from or what kinds of talk there is about where they could originate?

Kevin Knuth:        That's a good question. That's been a matter of a lot of discussion and given that we know so little at this point, all the hypotheses are still on the table. Are they extra terrestrial? Do they come from another country? Did somebody else make these things in secret? That's actually hard to believe at this point because with this type of technology, you would imagine that somebody would have used it in the last 15 years for something. And to keep something like that secret for 15 years would be difficult to imagine. Especially because it gives you such a huge military advantage, but still on the table are they inter dimensional, which we wouldn't understand at all.

Kevin Knuth:        Or if there extraterrestrial, where could they come from? That you can put some bounds on. We know what the accelerations are. So in some cases we estimated accelerations ranging from around a 100 times the acceleration of gravity, a 100 G, up to about 5,000 G'S. And even at a hundred G'S of acceleration, if you accelerated for your trip halfway and then decelerated the rest of the half at a hundred G'S, you could traverse the galaxy in about four months. You're not going faster than light, but you're going fast enough that relativity kicks in and the Traveler's clocks will slow down. So while for us we would see them taking a hundred thousand years to get across the galaxy, they would do it according to their clocks and only a couple months.

Sarah O'Carroll:    That's really interesting. And now you're embarking on this project in California. Can you share a little bit about how that came about and what you all are seeking to do?

Kevin Knuth:        Yeah. I was contacted by Kevin Day who was the Senior Chief Radar Operator on the USS Princeton, which was with the Nimitz Carrier Group in 2004. He was involved with tracking a number of these UAPs that were eventually videotaped. And so he's been personally interested in trying to learn about them and find out what these things are. I had written in articles sometime ago just stating that scientists ought to study these things. So he contacted me and asked, do you want to study these things? And I said "well what do you have in mind?" So he proposed to hire a research vessel and park it off the coast of Southern California where he had previously seen these objects, and basically see if we can find any more.

Sarah O'Carroll:    And when you say a research vessel that's like a boat essentially?

Kevin Knuth:        Yeah, so he already has a boat lined up for that we plan to hire in I believe December of 2020, so December of next year. And we plan to go off the coast of Southern California, just South of probably San Clemente Island. Just South of San Clemente Island and Santa Catalina islands are where he saw them appearing on radar first. One of the ideas we have to help ensure our success is to try to get satellite imagery of that area now and monitor that area of ocean by satellite for the next couple of months and see if we can actually see any of these things on satellite.

Kevin Knuth:        When he was tracking them, they would appear on his radar at 80,000 feet, which was quite high and they would typically drop down to about 28,000 feet altitude and then cruise South at a hundred miles an hour. For 28,000 feet is rather slow. You've got to go fast to stay up cause there's not much air there, for an airplane has to go fast to stay up. So it's already odd. Seeing something moving that slowly at 28,000 feet, but if they're moving in a 100 miles an hour, they should be easily spotted by satellite. And the pilots who saw them reported them being about the size of an F18 around. They were basically tic-tacs shapes. They call them tic-tacs, basically a big white butane tank. Flying butane tank is what they appeared to be.

Sarah O'Carroll:    It looks like there are some other entrepreneurs on the team too. Can you share about who else will be involved besides the leaders and yourself?

Kevin Knuth:        Yeah, certainly. So Deep Prasad is a CEO of a quantum computing company called ReactiveQ. Based in Toronto, he's going to be working on this with us. Rizwan Virk is an entrepreneur from Silicon Valley. He's going to be working with us as well. I'm writing a grant proposal at this moment and we're also working to get crowdfunding to fund parts of the expedition as well.

Sarah O'Carroll:    What are some of your questions going into this, beyond just what will you find, what are some other things that you've been in discussion about?

Kevin Knuth:        A good bit. The first question is do we have a chance of success? And that's where the satellite imaging comes in to try to help ensure success. We've also been worried about whether these things are still present. When Kevin Day was tracking them, that was 2004, which was 15 years ago. So it's very likely they're just not around anymore or moved on somewhere else or just not here. So it's not clear that we'll find anything. We've had some indication that, that's not the case. There had been several articles about this. A commercial pilot contacted Deep Presad and he's remained anonymous and we don't know what company he worked for. But he informed us that about two weeks before he contacted him, probably sometime in August. I think he was a copilot. He and the pilot had spotted a tic-tac shaped object off the coast of Oregon.

Kevin Knuth:        So they may still be around, maybe they're up in Oregon, in which case we'll expand our satellite search and we'll maybe move the recent vessel up there. I'd rather be on a research vessel in Southern California in December, but if it has to be Oregon, it'd be Oregon.

Sarah O'Carroll:    Because Oregon is where the startup is based, the one that is initiating this project to begin with, is that correct?

Kevin Knuth:        Yeah. Yeah. And then it's just coincidence that the tic- tac was spotted by the pilot in Oregon and that the Kevin Day is also located in Oregon. That's coincidence. We also have another collaborator, lives in Washington state and he has a company that helped develop the infrared cameras that were used by the Navy. So he has a couple of the FLIR cameras himself and he already has rec been using them to see what he can see in the sky.

Kevin Knuth:        And he already has recorded several interesting objects. One of them appears to be tic-tac shaped. We haven't really analyzed that video yet, so we can't say for certain that's what it is. But we're hoping that together both the pilot's sightings and his recordings are some evidence that these things might still be around and so we might be successful.

Sarah O'Carroll:    And how might you look on this and say this has been successful. How are you going to be measuring that?

Kevin Knuth:        We're hoping to get imagery, so we're hoping to take photographs and videos of them both invisible and infrared. We are going to have spectrometers so that we can measure the specter of light coming off of these things and see what we can learn from that. We have several other potential instruments set up. We're going to try to detect radiation, maybe cameraed radiation or even neutrons, just to see what there is.

Kevin Knuth:        We have no idea what we're dealing with. So we're just going to bring an array of equipment to hopefully measure whatever we can measure, try to figure out what these things actually are.

Sarah O'Carroll:    What would you say is at stake for this project? What is significant about this? How would you answer the "So What?" Question?

Kevin Knuth:        The "So What" question? Well of course the Navy was mostly interested in security in itself. If these things are Russian or Chinese or North Korean, we're in trouble. We're in serious trouble. These things accelerate at very high rates. Some of the information that Kevin Day provided appears that these things can accelerate up to at least 5,000 times acceleration of gravity, which is insane. And so you know what those rates if you tied whatever's propelling that to a missile, you could get a missile from Beijing to Washington in a couple of minutes.

Kevin Knuth:        And so security wise, it's a big deal. Anybody who has this technology would easily dominate any of the militaries on the planet. So of course we worry about enemies having this, and they should worry about us having this. So it's a concern for everybody that way. If they're not from this planet, we all have a problem. We all have a potential problem. They don't appear to be hostile. As far as I know, there's no real reports of any kind of hostility, so that's a good thing. But should they decide to be hostile, there's a problem. Now on the more science side of it, it's not clear how they fly. How do you fly a butane tank? It doesn't have wings. There's no obvious means of propulsion. There's no exhaust. From the infrared videos, you don't see any kind of exhaust.

Sarah O'Carroll:    There are not like drones either.

Kevin Knuth:        They're not drones. No, it's clear that, that's not the case. So we don't know how they stay aloft, we don't know how they propel themselves. We certainly don't know how you propel anything at 5,000 G'S of acceleration.

Kevin Knuth:        If we had that technology we could have shuttles to Mars that could get there in half an hour. If we add that technology and you can actually use it. And we could have Mars colony and have taxis to Mars. You could go to Mars for lunch and come home. It would easily allow people to civilize, to populate the solar system and we could probably go to other star systems with this type of technology. So this is one reason why people in Silicon Valley are interested in this and there's probably many other uses for the technology as well. From a science perspective, there's clearly some kind of physics to learn. There's either some aspect of physics that we're missing, that we don't quite understand yet, or some very clever engineering is using the physics we do know to pull this off. And so we're going to either make some huge advances in physics or engineering by studying these things.

Kevin Knuth:        If they are extraterrestrial, we stand the chance to make in contact with another intelligent species and learning more about our galaxy, which would be probably the biggest discovery in human history. So it's a problem when I encountered this and I thought, "wow, here are the possibilities." And I thought, "well, I don't want to walk away from the biggest discovery in human history and then kick myself later. Cause I thought it was kind of crazy when I first heard it." I thought "let's think about this a little bit and look into it." And the more I looked into it, the more interesting it gets.

Sarah O'Carroll:    So it was enough to draw you as a serious intellectual and scholar on the subject as well as just all of the unknowns that have their own appeal it sounds like.

Kevin Knuth:        As a physicist it's problematic because I don't know how these things are accelerating through the air at those rates. They're not creating sonic booms. There's no huge amounts of heat being dumped. These accelerations require power on the order of atomic bombs worth of power. So when one of these things flies there ought to be several atomic bombs blowing up a second, amount of energy being released. You don't see any of that. So it's not clear how they work at all. And so I really want to understand the physics and engineering here and I don't understand it. It's sufficiently odd that leads you to question whether the observations are actually correct, but so far the observations all appear to be consistent from multiple observers, multiple imaging modalities. And so it's hard to argue against that.

Sarah O'Carroll:    Do you remember where you were when the first couple videos surfaced in 2017 of U.S. fighter pilots trying to make sense of what they were seeing? Those kinds of moments. Did they stick with you as a physicist?

Kevin Knuth:        Yeah, they did. I remember they were released on December 16th 2017 and it was a "Oh my God" moment, is this really real? Are they really releasing this? Is this possible? And I remember thinking all of those things. Excited but also skeptical. You're like, "well this is surprising." It's surprising they're being released and surprising that this is possible.

Sarah O'Carroll:    I'm realizing that when you are reading about scientists who are tracking unknown aerial phenomenon, it sounds like that you have already kind of ascribed to the belief that this is what you'll find or you believe they're out there so you're trying to search for it. And yet, I've been hearing all of your questions and curiosity and recognition of the unknowns too. And so it sounds like you are the ones who have the courage to go into that unknown space and try to, no pun intended, you're willing to go into that territory to ask these big questions, which potentially have really big implications for humanity.

Kevin Knuth:        This is how big discoveries are made. You see something odd and you check it out. And maybe it's nothing, in which case we'll find out and we'll all walk away and go to something else later. Or it'll turn out that it is something and we're all going to learn something pretty dramatic. It's interesting also because we're in a situation where this is a complete unknown. I had talked to Lou Elizondo who ran the Pentagon's program, and he made it clear, he goes, "we don't know what these things are. We don't know where they come from. We don't know who's flying them or who made them. We don't know if they're piloted or autonomous or remote controlled and we don't know what they're here for." These are big questions and it's not only potentially interesting scientifically or from an engineering perspective but also from a safety perspective. It would be rather foolish to assume, "Oh it's nothing" and just walk away and that could put us in some kind of danger if it turns out it's not nothing or we could miss an opportunity.

Sarah O'Carroll:    It sounds like there is a lot of exciting things ahead and I look forward to keeping up with it. So thank you so much.

Kevin Knuth:        Thank you so much.

NEWS CLIP:          [inaudible 00:16:11] Oh my gosh dude.

NEWS CLIP :         Wow, look at it fly

Thank you for listening to the UAlbany News Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah O'Carroll, and that was Kevin Knoff. You can let us know what you thought of the episode by emailing us at or you can find us on Twitter at UAlbany news.