LINCOLN, Neb. The Department of Defense's annual budget is about $600 billion; so it may be fairly easy to overlook $22 million of that.
But from 2007-2012, $22 million is how much the D.O.D. spent on a secret program tasked with tracking UFOs.
The recently declassified program was thrust into the public eye earlier this month--after video was released purporting to show a UFO off the coast of California.
The video was captured by a Navy fighter jet off the coast of San Diego in 2004. The object--shaped somewhat like a top--is about the size of a school bus. Some governmental workers and aerospace engineers say the object appeared to defy the laws of physics.
The incident is one of 12,000 encounters investigated by the recently declassified Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program.
"Well certainly the video is unexplainable by me," said Dr. Kevin Lee, a research associate professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Nebraska. "I don't understand it. I don't know what it is, but I think we need to be careful that we don't make too great a leap of logic."
Dr. Lee teaches other scientists about the universe using computer based systems he created.
"I don't know if there are any experts on the entire universe," he said, "but I certainly have a Ph.D in astronomy and I've watched all the X-Files episodes."
Lee said it's important to remember the "u" in UFO, unidentified. He said connecting alien visitors from another solar system to the video is not a good extrapolation of the data.
"There are often things we don't understand in science, and we're not going to know all the answers. I think scientists are much more comfortable explaining something as 'unidentified' than in connecting it to something else to which there's no evidence for in any way," Lee said.
What's in the video, according to Lee, could just as easily be an advanced Russian stealth probe as an alien space craft. The point, Lee said, is that we don't know. Just like we don't know what makes up the majority of our universe.
"I certainly do want to believe (in extraterrestrial life)," said Lee, "but I like to think what I believe is based on evidence. It's fact-based belief and not just rampant speculation with no underlying fact."
Lee said in the modern era--when everyone has a camera phone--we should be seeing much more concrete evidence of aliens visiting earth before we identify the unidentified.