Anti-gravity could explain how UFOs fly—if they exist

Illustration: Wikipedia

Over the last few years, Luis Elizondo has become the closest thing to a rock star in UFO circles. So when the Pentagon on 24 June last year released the report on UFOs—or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena) as the U.S Department of Defense prefers to call them—Luis Elizondo was rightly one of the people journalists wanted to talk to the most.

Namely, from 2008 to 2017, he was at the head of the secret investigation team AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program), which aimed to investigate what it was that particularly American fighter pilots saw flying around in American airspace.

In the report, which was only nine pages long, one could read that it was only possible to find a logical explanation for one out of 144 cases observed between 2004 and 2017—it was a deflating balloon. In 80 cases, multiple sensors had observed the UAP and in 18 cases, the UAP performed “unusual movement patterns”.

In an interview on the TV show 60 Minutes, Luis Elizondo said, among other things:

“Imagine a technology that can do 6-to-700 g-forces, that can fly at 13 000 miles an hour, that can evade radar and that can fly through air and water and possibly space. And oh, by the way, has no obvious signs of propulsion, no wings, no control surfaces and yet still can defy the natural effects of Earth’s gravity. That’s precisely what we’re seeing.”

Luis Elizondo is not alone in his wonder; After The New York Times wrote about the Pentagon’s secret UFO program for the first time in 2017, numerous stories have emerged from around the world about objects that move around completely unhindered, even in the sea and out in space.

So if we momentarily put all scepticism aside and forget decades of popular culture in books and movies, then there really is a possibility that such objects could actually exist—that someone, somewhere in the universe, has invented what we in simple terms could call anti-gravity?

In a series of videos released by the U.S. Department of Defense, objects are seen moving in extremely peculiar ways. Here is a screenshot from the video called “Gimbal”. The pilot who sees the object says that there is “a whole fleet of them”, and that it is flying against the wind, which at that time was blowing at 222 km/h from the west. Another pilot has seen similar Tic-Tac-shaped objects moving at straight angles. When the pilot flew towards them, they disappeared in an instant. Illustration: Pentagon

There may be a way

It is not exactly something that physicists have jumped at, as it all seems quite undefined, but there may be a way in, and that is why we are now sitting in an office in the new Niels Bohr Building on Jagtvej in Copenhagen.

Steen Harle Hansen is a theoretical physicist and associate professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, under the research group called DARK. That is, he specializes in everything dark-related in the universe: dark matter and dark energy. We will come back to why that is important, and how it relates to UFOs and anti-gravity. First, we need some basic knowledge on Newton, Maxwell, and a relatively new type of mathematics:

“If we look at a new phenomenon and want to explain it, we tend to take the toolbox we normally work with and tweak it to fit. But perhaps we should instead take a step back and ask the question: Can we use the toolbox that we’re familiar with at all?” he asks rhetorically.

The forces are almost identical —for over 100 years, physicists have wondered why the first part of the electromagnetic force (Lorentz force) equation strongly resembles the gravitational force equation. The real question is whether there could be an additional term to the gravitational force equation, so that two forces are not only able to attract each other, but also repel each other—in the equation described as a gravitational field B (gravity). New research from the Niels Bohr Institute has derived an equation for this additional term and shown that it could perhaps be used to explain why the universe continues to expand. Illustration: Ingeniøren

At the institute, the researchers have applied a mathematical method that was developed in the mid-1960s, and it has already led to some surprising results that may change the toolbox that physicists usually resort to when trying to explain the universe: Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

“The mathematics is called spacetime algebra, and we use the basic premise of a space in which there is no matter. It is a vector-based mathematical structure that works in spacetime, but with a geometric understanding of what an object is,” he explains and emphasizes that Einstein was well acquainted with such a space, but he lacked some technicalities to be able to work with it. Instead, he developed his theory of relativity as a mathematical equation.

But spacetime algebra opens up a whole range of possibilities that are not found in traditional algebra or the theory of relativity. For example, the complex “i” that all engineers know from mathematics becomes a volume, and it is also possible to divide it by a vector, even if it is described in three spatial dimensions and a temporal dimension:

“What we discovered last year was that if we calculate three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension in spacetime algebra, then we can derive Newton’s laws. We have tried with an object, for example an area multiplied by a charge Q, and then calculated through equations of motion —and we get the whole electromagnetism, including Maxwell’s equations and the Lorentz force,” Steen Harle Hansen says enthusiastically.

In other words, where Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein built their theories and equations from the bottom up, and in case of Einstein only had them confirmed through observations long after, with the new mathematics, researchers have a much more general tool at their disposal.

Because with the new mathematics, scientists have actually been able to prove three phenomena that have otherwise only been tested with the general theory of relativity: Mercury’s orbit around the Sun, gravitational lensing, and gravitational time dilation. Steen Harle Hansen and his colleagues have thus shown that Einstein’s general theory of relativity was not the only way to describe the universe.

“From the peer review, we got feedback that what we had found was really interesting—it was probably not right, they said—but it deserved to get out:

‘Someone needed to be able to really stick the knife in,’” he laughs.

Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853–1928) is best known for deriving the equation that combines electric and magnetic force—called the Lorentz force. He received the Nobel Prize (together with Pieter Zeeman) in 1902. He is considered one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century and from 1925 to 1928, he was also the president of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation—the forerunner of UNESCO. Illustration: Ukendt

The additional gravitational term

And now we come back to anti-gravity. In the area of gravity and electromagnetism, there is a question that physicists have been asking themselves almost ever since Maxwell came up with the famous equations: the equations are so similar to each other that it may not be a coincidence. But where electric charges are both able to attract and repel each other, gravity can only attract. In electromagnetism, there is an additional term, and that may be the key:

“Our new method of calculating the phenomena we already know tells us that in the equation for gravity, there might well be an additional term that we aren’t aware of today. I’m not saying it’s the same as in electromagnetism, but it might be reminiscent of that,” he says.

Additional terms that could perhaps describe the movement of mass through a gravitational field and possibly explain how masses can also repel each other. Illustration: Ingeniøren

To be more specific, Steen Harle Hansen points out that in electromagnetism, the interaction between particles is extremely strong, while it is extremely weak in gravity. But maybe there is a particle in between the two that we are not aware of. Specifically, the researchers are considering whether this could be the case in dark matter, which we do not know much about:

“We know that dark matter exists, and why should it not be able to contain forces and particles we know nothing about yet? One must keep in mind that 150 years ago, we couldn't control electromagnetism as we can today. So there may be particles that are neither gravity nor electromagnetism —but something in between,” he says.

The researchers used a calculation mode l that turned out to give an effect that was 14 orders of magnitude weaker than electromagnetism and 20 orders of magnitude stronger than gravity.

And then we come back to the idea of anti-gravity—what if an advanced civilization is able to control a force we are not familiar with? Perhaps it is a particle which, when there are enough of them, is able to repel other objects, just like two magnets with the same pole:

“If we stubbornly stick to Einstein’s theory of relativity, then I don’t think it can be done. But who says Einstein had it all figured out? Today, we press a button and get light. We have iPhones and lasers. The Maya people were fantastic at communicating with each other by tying knots on a string, but they could not imagine a computer,” Sten Harle Hansen says.

Part of the new research will soon be published.

Isaac Newton (1643–1727) was an English mathematician, physicist, and astronomer and is considered one of the greatest scientists of recent times. Among other things, he formulated the laws of gravity, attraction, and motion. Illustration: Ukendt