If you’ve ever seen a UFO — or UAP, for unidentified anomalous phenomena — in Hampton Roads, a new app wants to show you’re not alone.
At least 4,000 sightings have been reported in Norfolk and Virginia Beach over the last 50 years, according to data collected by Enigma Labs, a UAP tracking company that describes itself as a neutral aggregator of unexplained events aiming to support research into the topic. With Enigma’s Apple iOS app, users can report their own sightings. They are then vetted, scrubbed of personal identifying information and added to an interactive map within days, according to Alejandro Rojas, head of research and content for Enigma.
“There is no really official data set that anybody is putting up. We’re hoping to be that,” Rojas said to an audience of about 30 at an event in downtown Norfolk this week.
Rojas summarized the history of UAP sightings, the various federal investigations that have been conducted, and recently declassified information that’s raising more and more questions about what these sightings are. Rojas said part of the challenge is that it’s extremely difficult to determine exactly what a UAP is, but by collecting anecdotes you begin to see trends in the shapes, sizes and types of UAPs, as well as where they’re being seen.
“Anecdotal information doesn’t prove anything, it points us in the right direction, it shows us where to look, but we need data,” Rojas said.
Enigma uses artificial intelligence to vet UAP sightings, according to Rojas, employing research parameters to filter out fake reports and ones that have reasonable explanations.
Enigma hosted a pop-up at last month’s Something in the Water festival, which was organized by noted UAP enthusiast Pharrell Williams. Williams told W Magazine in 2019 that while he’s never seen a UAP himself, he “of course” believes in aliens in part because of how vast outer space is. Enigma even wrote a blog post about water-based UAPs reported throughout history and timed it with the start of the festival. Since then, the company has spent weeks in the Hampton Roads area to raise awareness and try to build community interest in UAPs. It has also created a Virginia-focused Facebook group.
Rojas said Hampton Roads is a good place to connect with people because of the large military presence — many sightings happen around military installations, and military aircraft are some of the best at documenting them. The region also boasts many anglers and outdoors enthusiasts, who are often the types to see something unusual in the skies or over the water.
Sightings off the coast of Virginia Beach have played a big role in the huge shift in the conversation around UAPs in recent years — from looney conspiracy theories to the subject of serious government hearings. Lts. Ryan Graves and Danny Accoin, who were F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots based out of Naval Air Station Oceana, said they saw UAPs almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015 while training off the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
Though the pilots don’t make any claim of knowing what they saw or where the phenomena came from, their close encounters were enough to make them doubt earthly explanations. The objects could be in the air all day, moving at speeds that wouldn’t be possible with known technology, they said, and the pilots nearly collided with one — giving them a close enough look that they described it as a “sphere encasing a cube.”
The Pentagon first confirmed the existence of its Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, which investigates UFO reports, to the New York Times in 2017. Since then, many elected officials have spoken publicly about UAPs.
NASA will broadcast a public meeting of its team that is studying UAPs at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday. To tune in, visit https://www.nasa.gov/live.
To download the Enigma app, go to the App Store on your iPhone or Apple computer and search Enigma Labs, LLC. Rojas said an Android app is in the works.
© 2023 The Virginian-Pilot
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.