2019 was a big year for UFO coverage, ranging from the U.S. Navy acknowledging for the first time that leaked videos were real to former and current politicians weighing in on what the military knows, and a wave of people attempting to "storm Area 51."
No one can say for certain whether life exists outside of this planet, but the public's interest levels in the subject have likely never been higher.
January saw the release of newly declassified documents from the Pentagon that revealed the Department of Defense funded projects that investigated UFOs, wormholes, alternate dimensions and a host of other subjects that are often the topics of conspiracy theorists.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released 38 research titles on Jan. 18, following a Freedom of Information Act request from Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. The research was funded by the Department of Defense under its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP).
The existence of AATIP was initially described by The New York Times and Politico in 2017. It was subsequently reported by Fox News and a number of other news outlets that the Pentagon had secretly set up a program to investigate UFOs at the request of former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
A Pentagon spokesman said the UFO program ended in 2012, though The New York Times said the Defense Department still investigates potential episodes of unidentified flying objects.
Several months later, the U.S. Navy announced it was drafting new guidelines for pilots and other employees to report encounters with "unidentified aircraft."
"There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated air space in recent years," the Navy said in an April statement to Politico, which first reported the move.
"For safety and security concerns, the Navy and the [U.S. Air Force] takes these reports very seriously and investigates each and every report."
"As part of this effort," it told Politico, "the Navy is updating and formalizing the process by which reports of any such suspected incursions can be made to the cognizant authorities. A new message to the fleet that will detail the steps for reporting is in draft."
The Navy also said it's taking a more proactive approach in briefing lawmakers, including several senators who were briefed in June.
One month later, the Pentagon admitted that it was still investigating UFOs as part of the AATIP.
“The Department of Defense is always concerned about maintaining positive identification of all aircraft in our operating environment, as well as identifying any foreign capability that may be a threat to the homeland,” spokesman Christopher Sherwood told the New York Post in May. “The department will continue to investigate, through normal procedures, reports of unidentified aircraft encountered by US military aviators in order to ensure defense of the homeland and protection against strategic surprise by our nation’s adversaries.”
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon told Fox & Friends in May the Navy has a right to be concerned about the unexplained sightings.
"We know that UFOs exist. This is no longer an issue," said Mellon, who has written on the topic and is associated with the History Channel series, 'Unidentified,' at the time. "The issue is why are they here? Where are they coming from and what is the technology behind these devices that we are observing?"
The speeds that were reported (about 5,000 miles per hour, according to Mellon) were only sustainable for about an hour by an aircraft in the air, and these objects would be flying around all day long, the pilots said.
"Pilots observing these craft are absolutely mystified and that comes through clearly in their public statements," Mellon continued.
In June 2019, Reid, now retired, expressed his desire for lawmakers to hold public hearings into what the military knows.
"They would be surprised how the American public would accept it," he said during a wide-ranging interview with a Nevada radio station. "People from their individual states would accept it."
What started as an internet joke in July to "see them aliens," turned into the headline-grabbing "Storm Area 51" event in September.
Although more than 2 million people signed up on Facebook saying they would attend the viral phenomenon event, a motley group of about 100 “alien-chasers” converged on the back gate of the secret site early Sept. 20, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Only a few people were arrested, Fox News previously reported.
People came from all over the U.S. to attend the viral event, which generated security concerns and garnered global attention.
"We figure Mars needs women, so we're here if they want to beam us up," one woman told Fox News in September.
Americans said in a September Gallup poll they are becoming increasingly skeptical that the government knows more than it is letting on as it pertains to UFOs and an ex-punk rocker may be the one who opens the proverbial pandora's box.
A spokesperson for To the Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences (TTSA), co-founded by former Blink-182 singer Tom DeLonge, told The New York Times in September that it "certainly" had obtained "exotic material samples from UFOs," but no further details were given at the time.
“The Navy considers the phenomena contained/depicted in those three videos as unidentified," Navy spokesman Joseph Gradisher told The Black Vault, a website dedicated to declassified government documents.
Gradisher added that “the ‘Unidentified Aerial Phenomena’ terminology is used because it provides the basic descriptor for the sightings/observations of unauthorized/unidentified aircraft/objects that have been observed entering/operating in the airspace of various military-controlled training ranges.”
The videos in question, known as "FLIR1,” “Gimbal” and “GoFast,” were originally released to the New York Times and to the TTSA.
The first video of the unidentified object was taken on Nov. 14, 2004, and shot by an F-18's gun camera. The second video was taken on Jan. 21, 2015, and shows another aerial vehicle with pilots commenting on how strange it is. The third video was also taken on Jan. 21, 2015, but it is unclear whether the third video was of the same object or a different one.
In October, the TTSA signed a deal with the U.S. Army to study its purported extraterrestrial "discoveries."
November saw the publication of an explosive report that detailed the involvement of two "unknown individuals" who told several Naval officers who witnessed the 2004 event, known as the USS Nimitz UFO incident, to delete evidence.
Earlier this month, Chris Rutkowski, a Canadian science writer and ufologist, donated his collection of more than 20,000 UFO reports filed over the past three decades, plus another 10,000 UFO-related documents from the Canadian government, including the so-called Falcon Lake incident, which Rutkowski said "beats even Roswell."
Fox News' Christopher Carbone, Travis Fedschun and Steve Credo contributed to this story.