WHETHER or not we are alone in the universe is one of the biggest mysteries in science – bu Harvard's top astronomer is now saying we finally have an answer.
Prof Avi Loeb is making the explosive claim that the unusual interstellar object known as Oumuamua which passed Earth is really alien technology – but even that might not be the most shocking revelation about extraterrestrial life to emerge this year.
Suggestions that Oumuamua, which is a Hawaiian word roughly meaning "scout",was alien technology were quashed by the scientific community after the strange object was first detected in 2017.
But now Prof Loeb has made the stunning claim in a new book out this week, Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, that the mysterious phenomenon must be from an alien civilisation.
The Harvard scientist is among the most credible people to ever claim to have evidence of the existence of aliens.
But his groundbreaking book isn't the only reason UFO hunters think we might be on the verge of a historic revelation about visitors from outer space.
The CIA recently declassified huge troves of its own UFO files, with the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) set to follow suit this year.
And since US defence chiefs confirmed Navy pilots really had filmed "unidentified aerial phenomena", those paying attention think even more out of this world revelations could be on the way in coming months.
"These are the golden years – this is a time like no other time for this subject," says Nick Pope, who investigated reports of UFOs on behalf of the British government in the 1990s.
"To be living in this time, perhaps on the threshold of the greatest revelation or discovery in the history of humanity is extraordinary."
Here's why those looking for answers about aliens are so excited about 2021 – from a new $10billion weapon in the search to an unprecedented intelligence report slated for this summer.
Closing in on the truth
Sceptics usually dismiss claims about aliens as the fantasies of cranks – but some of the latest bombshells have come from unusually well-credentialed sources.
As well as Prof Loeb's claim about Oumuamua, which he believes could be a "piece of alien technology" called a solar sail, other high profile individuals have made extraordinary ET claims lately.
Haim Eshed, Israel's former space security chief, last year alleged Donald Trump knew aliens existed and was "on the verge" of telling everyone, but was stopped from doing so to avoid mass hysteria.
Then ex-CIA director John Brennan made the jaw-dropping comment that what was seen in the declassified Navy UFO videos could involve "a different form of life".
"Harvard astronomer, Israeli space scientist, former CIA director… When they all pretty much at the same time start dropping hints, making statements, all pointing towards extraterrestrials, it makes you think," Nick says.
But what's far more exciting is what is potentially yet to come this year.
And one of the biggest events of the year could come in the US this summer, when the Director of National Intelligence delivers a report to senators about UFOs.
The Senate Intelligence Committee ordered the report last year, demanding to know what various secretive intelligence agencies already knew about UFOs, but had kept secret.
And, as new Vice President Kamala Harris sat on the committee, some wonder if she will influence Joe Biden's approach to the question of extraterrestrial life.
Senators have already had a classified briefing on the subject, but refused to divulge anything about what they learned, Politico reports.
"Kamala Harris will have had that briefing, almost certainly – she's part of the committee that's demanded this report," Nick says.
Although the public may end up only getting an unclassified summary of the report, even that may contain gold dust.
Media reports have already suggested an Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) task force exists within the Office of Naval Intelligence.
"Leaks suggest they have not ruled out the extraterrestrial hypothesis," Nick says of the task force's stance to the Navy videos.
But he adds that more substantial evidence is going to be needed before alien life is confirmed as real.
"Impressive though the Navy videos are, they're just films," Nick says.
"It's going to take more than films, photos, documents, whistleblower testimony."
'Most compelling evidence I've seen'
In his own work investigating UFOs for the British government, Nick saw some fascinating cases – like the Rendlesham Forest incident in 1980, or the mysterious Calvine pictures snapped in Scotland.
At Rendlesham, often referred to as Britain's Roswell incident, United States Air Force members stationed in the UK claimed to have seen UFO lights in the sky.
But despite the intriguing evidence, Nick says there was no actual smoking gun proving aliens were real – but that could all be about to change.
"I'm tracking these developments very closely and I think everything that's going on in the US right now is the most compelling evidence I've seen," he says.
"Even though it's not definitive, the Navy videos, the Senate Intelligence Committee's demand for a report, Trump's hints… it's like there's a quickening of the pace.
"Taken individually, none of these things is necessarily going to prove anything.
"But taken collectively, it pushes us tantalisingly close to the line."
Secrets of UK government coming to light
Evidence which could take us even closer might come from a hotly anticipated tranche of documents set to be unsealed by the British government later this year.
The MoD declassified and released most of its archive years ago – including many files which Nick wrote.
But more files were discovered recently and have been earmarked for publication.
They were supposed to be published in the March 2020 but the release date has been continuously delayed due to the pandemic.
"The most recent thing I've heard is: 'We hope to do it shortly,'" Nick says.
"It will almost certainly be this year. The MoD is trying to downplay the significance of this and say: 'It's just public correspondence.'
Somewhere out there, there could be a new Roswell or a new Rendlesham Forest
"There should be a mix of Freedom of Information Act requests but also sighting reports, and who knows?
"That's the thing about sightings – you never know when, in the middle of a load of Chinese lanterns and aircraft lights and things like that, you're going to suddenly get a nugget, some hugely significant case.
"Somewhere out there, there could be a new Roswell or a new Rendlesham Forest.
"It could be in those files."
Answers from the unknown
Declassified documents and intelligence briefings aren't the only frontiers in our search for extraterrestrial revelations – answers could come from the cosmos itself.
Which is one of the reasons why scientists can't wait for the launch of the $10billion (£7.3billion) James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in October this year.
The powered-up successor to the Hubble Telescope will scour the heavens looking for light from the first stars to form after the Big Bang.
And the search could throw up some interesting possibilities as to the question of intelligent life out there in space.
"It's not designed specifically to look for alien life, but it will help with that search – it will find, for example, more exoplanets [planets around stars outside of our solar system]," Nick says.
If exoplanets have oceans, for instance, that could make it more likely that life exists there.
But just like the appearance of the Navy pilot videos, Nick suspects if a major breakthrough does come in 2021, it could come without any warning at all.
"We know some of the things that are coming," Nick says. "What we don't know is what the unexpected bombshells are going to be – and they're very often the biggest ones of all.
"If ever there's a time for a bombshell, it's probably right now."
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