Are Aliens Out There? Why 2017 Was the Year To Believe In UFOs and Life in the Solar System

A depiction of the Kepler-90i solar system, the first known foreign solar system with eight planets. NASA/Wendy Stenzel

It's one of the big philosophical questions we all love to ponder—is there life beyond Earth? We still don't have any firm evidence there is, but that doesn't mean 2017 wasn't an exciting year for alien enthusiasts. Here are some of the biggest stories of the year:

Jaw-dropping new exoplanet discoveries: All told, scientists announced the discovery of more than a hundred new exoplanets this year. The new worlds present an incredible spectrum of what planets beyond our solar system can look like. And even better, many of them have been intriguingly like Earth: rocky and placed within what astronomers nickname the habitable zone, close enough but not so close to its star that liquid water can exist on its surface. This year's new haul of planets included little rocky LHS 1140b, Ross 128 b and its unusually calm star, and even a giant exoplanet tucked at the heart of our own galaxy. And NASA rounded out its year by announcing it had discovered an eighth planet in another solar system, making it the only one to match our own for the total tally.

Anonymous claims of NASA evidence for alien life: In June, the global hacking collective Anonymous released a video claiming that NASA had evidence that alien life exists and is hiding it from the American public. The agency administrator heavily cited in that video quickly ruled out any announcement, and the succeeding six months have been quiet.

The Weird! signal: The search for extraterrestrial intelligence got a brief boost in July when astronomers in Puerto Rico announced they had spotted a strange signal coming from a star known as Ross 128. Further examination suggested that the signal came from one of the fleet of human-made satellites orbiting Earth, but for a few days, scientists scrambled to solve the puzzle the signal presented.

Oumuamua, here in an artist’s rendering, is long and thin like a cigar instead of a more typical lumpy shape, and it’s not giving off the cloud of evaporating gas that scientists expected to see. ESO/M. Kornmesser

Scientists spot their first interstellar asteroid, Oumuamua: In October, astronomers spotted an object flying through the solar system on such a strange path that it was immediately clear it had come from a different neighborhood. As scientists continued to peer at the object, it only became stranger. Their readings revealed it was oddly shaped and coated in organic material. Astronomers jumped on the chance to check Oumuamua for radio signals that would indicate it was communicating with aliens, but the search has so far found only quiet.

Five-year Pentagon program investigating UFOs revealed: A New York Times story published in December detailed the existence of the $22 million Defense Intelligence Agency project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. The program looked into UFO sightings reported by military personnel, and since it has become public knowledge, its former head has expressed his certainty that aliens exist and UFOs are real.

Read more: Alien Atlantis? Extraterrestrial Life May Be Hiding in Subsurface Oceans of Distant Planets

But 2017 wasn't all good news for alien enthusiasts. The year saw a particularly important delay in the hunt for alien life when NASA again postponed the launch of its long-overdue James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope is designed to, among other tasks, study the atmospheres of exoplanets, including alien planets where ET just might exist.