One late evening in the early summer of 1981, lying sleepless in my student bedsit at the top of a house in the Fallowfield district of Manchester, I became aware of a pattern of bright flashing lights on the wall. All I could see through the curtainless window on the opposite side of the room was a strip of rather cloudy night sky. The vivid flashing was coming from within, or perhaps behind, a bank of cloud. As I continued to watch, an object materialised from within the cloud, advancing until it stood in plain view in the night sky.
It was a strikingly large craft of some kind, flattish but with rounded edges, like an old-fashioned bedwarmer, or perhaps a huge English muffin. It was sparkling-silver and covered all over with a regular pattern of flashing white lights. After hovering for a few seconds, it began to move across the sky, and as it reached the right-hand frame of my window, I leant over the side of the bed to keep it in view. At a certain point it ceased its progress and, at the same sedate pace, retraced its route back to its starting-point. There it lingered for a few more seconds, before retreating into the cloud-bank until its evanescent flashing had entirely dissolved from view. Only then did I collapse out of bed and start frantically pulling on clothes. I rushed on foot to my girlfriend’s place to gibber out an account of the incident.
Convention demands the following declaration: I had not been drinking or taking drugs, I hadn’t dozed off and reawoken, and I wasn’t in a general state of agitation. It was a perfectly normal evening: I had gone to bed and was waiting to fall asleep. Nothing remotely similar has ever happened to me before or since. If everybody is entitled to at least one experience of the paranormal or unexplained, this was mine. For the three to four minutes that the whole episode lasted, it filled me with a mixture of trepidation and thrill, with an intimation that there might after all be another reality beyond the everyday one.
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The classic mise-en-scène for a UFO sighting was a remote, deserted location — country roads or woodland at night, or outside a ranch in New Mexico. A large spaceship hovering above Manchester should have been seen by tens of thousands of people. It wasn’t much after midnight, so there would still have been plenty of traffic on the streets. I followed the local news and talked to everybody I knew about it, but apparently only I had seen it, from my bedsit room in Fallowfield. Years later, when the archive of reported sightings processed by the now defunct UFO desk at the Ministry of Defence went online, I searched through the lists for 1981. There was nothing that resembled my sighting, and nothing at all in the whole of the UK for the month in question, or the months before and after it.
The spectacular fulfilled its purpose in shoring up devotion, transporting the soul, training the inner vision on higher things
There are no UFOs, and there never were. That, at least, is the official story, and it commands acceptance. There was something reassuring in the notion that the Ministry of Defence took them seriously enough to monitor reports, and perhaps even a trace of disappointment that virtually none of those alleged sightings was left unexplained when the desk closed in 2009. They were all night-flying aircraft, weather balloons, comets, car headlights seen at unusual angles through trees and mist, often by people who had been drinking, or who were half-asleep, or of whom it could be said, in the judicial discourse, that the balance of their minds was disturbed. Some of the famous photographs are of Frisbees. Whatever I saw in Manchester was there in front of me — there remains no doubt in my mind about that, even after 32 years — but I have never worked out what it was.
UFO sightings reached their spate roughly within a decade of the release of Steven Spielberg’s spellbinding film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). One good reason to believe there were never any UFOS is that nobody sees them any more. Once, the skies were refulgent with alien craft; now they are back to their primordial emptiness, returning only static to the radio telescopes, and offering the occasional meteor shower to the wondering eye.
It isn’t only flying saucers that have receded into history. They are being followed, more gradually to be sure, by a decline in sightings of ghosts, recordings of poltergeists, claims of psychokinesis and the rest, as is regularly attested by organisations such as the Society for Psychical Research in London and the UK-wide research group Para.Science. Many of those with a vested interest in the supernatural industry naturally resist this contention, but there is far less credulity among the public for tales of the extraordinary than there was even a generation ago. The standard explanation attributes this to growing scepticism. But, as is only fitting for the paranormal, it might be that there are more mysterious forces at work.
In The Society of the Spectacle (1967), the foundational text of Parisian situationism, the French Marxist theorist Guy Debord argued that consumer culture had acquired the dimensions of an alternative reality: it had replaced the dull, grey world with its own, phantasmatic iridescence. It didn’t matter whether or not everybody genuinely could buy a part of the universal plenty. What mattered was the mythology, the illusion of bountiful possibility and limitless choice, wrapped up in a spectacularity borrowed from the film and television industries.
Debord was not the first to remark on this. When the social theorists of the Frankfurt School arrived in New York during their wartime exile in the 1930s, they found the giant billboard ads for toothpaste even more-nerve jangling than they had expected. Here was a culture entirely mortgaged to the secular spectacular. In previous centuries, what was visually remarkable stood for the other-worldly, the spiritual. The baroque façades and soaring spires of cathedrals, the carmines and cobalts of stained-glass windows with the sun streaming through them, devotional processions and carnival parades, gargoyles, misericords, miraculous relics — all attested that there was an intangible reality beyond the physical one, a reality that could at most be suggestively delineated in extraordinary sights. By the time of the European Enlightenment, the sublimity of nature, together with its representation in the bravura period of landscape painting, achieved the same effects.
To be sure, there was always an impulse against these manifestations of visual culture. The very fact that they can be seen, and that in some cases they bear the traces of human artifice, tells against their association with the other-worldly. Arthur Schopenhauer at his most biliously saturnine would have none of it. To those who would counter the argument that the world is a dungheap of suffering with the pabulum that there are at least beautiful sights to see in nature, he scoffed: ‘Is the world, then, a peep-show?’ And yet, the spectacular did in fact fulfil its purpose in shoring up devotion, transporting the soul, training the inner vision on higher things.
My great-grandmother, a stranger to television, waved her handkerchief as the Queen’s carriage passed by on the small screen
Where people were convinced that they had seen the other world impinging on material reality, or were persuaded that others had, the connection between what one could see and what one might believe grew deeper. Materialisations of the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes in France, at Knock in Ireland, and at Fátima in Portugal, suggested that the visions of the first Christians — those who not only saw but spoke to, ate with and touched their risen Lord — were still available for anyone with eyes to see. Similarly, the bodying forth of Roman centurions, headless noblemen, wailing women and whey-faced children, not to mention the ectoplasmic effusions at seances, bore fugitive witness to another dimension beyond the temporal one, a realm to which we were all evidently journeying. We knew this because, for a second or two, in the dead of night, in solitude, every now and then, the odd one of us could see it.
The audience members who fled from their seats before the oncoming train at one of the Lumière brothers’ first cinema screenings in 1896 might look, in retrospect, as though they were fleeing in vain from the inexorable onslaught of the spectacular age. That they accepted the evidence of their own eyes turned out to be matter for derision. What motion pictures achieved was a simulacrum of reality, but one in which the world we were watching was unable to see us — an exact reversal of the centuries-long disposition of the sacred and secular realms. As late as 1953, when my family gathered to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II on the BBC, my great-grandmother, a stranger to television, waved her handkerchief as the Queen’s carriage passed by on the small screen.
If the growing spectacularisation of media culture began to undermine belief in the spirit world, the widespread dissemination of video technology hastened its decline. Filming is now within the grasp of everybody with a smartphone. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) beadily observes the nothing that is all that seems to happen on deserted night-time streets. Video cameras used to be reserved for the signal events of a life (weddings, anniversaries, birthdays), but now scarcely anything is beneath the attention of YouTube. In the heyday of ghost stories, the elusive grail was a photograph or moving film of some spectral emanation. There should no longer be any technical obstacle to providing this, and yet all we see is the odd whitish blur that could as easily be a mark on the screen.
W hat these countervailing powers have brought about in postmodern society is the wrong kind of scepticism. A large element of rationalist doubt certainly accompanies the decline of interest in the paranormal, driven primarily by these cultural and, latterly, technological factors. Yet underlying that doubt itself is the growing incredulity with which people evaluate anything. Supermarket discounts appear to offer wines at half-price; products for smearing on your face purport to make you look younger — these are the all-too-evident mendacities. The homilies of party politicians at election time sound like the exclamatory drivel of PR companies. And the way this stuff has permeated culture as a whole has bred a widespread incurious scepticism. We now extend the same degree of undifferentiating refusal even to those phenomena that, while hard to credit, deserve to be heeded. Climate change might be the most obvious current instance but, at its most noxious, scepticism results in an unwillingness to believe in others’ suffering. The attitude of wholesale rejection, by which one might stand a chance of becoming impervious to fraud, is thus bought at the ever greater risk of nihilism.
To Debord’s generation, spectacle culture was responsible for weaving an ineluctable web of deceit around its clients, blinding them to the true nature of reality. In fact, the opposite has turned out to be the case. Notwithstanding its pervasiveness, there is virtually no one who doesn’t secretly know that he is being cheated. Nothing ever quite lives up to its billing. Grandiose claims framed in the hysterical superlative — ‘The most terrifying movie ever made!’, ‘The funniest novel I’ve read all year!’ — carry within them the seeds of their own refutations. So ingrained is this habit of disbelief that it comes to seem as though there is nothing that isn’t part of the scam.
True scepticism lies in the considered suspension of belief, the opposite of that state of mind in which, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge suggested, we attend to tales of the otherwise incredible. The patron saint of this true scepticism is Thomas Didymus, or Doubting Thomas, who has erroneously come to be associated with weak-kneed faithlessness, but whose pathos consists precisely in his steadfast loyalty to his late teacher. It is this, after all, that prevents him from accepting what sound like fantastical stories of Jesus’s reappearance. When the resurrected Messiah informs him that it is blessed to believe without having seen, the moral applies to nobody present, as the other disciples have already declined to believe Mary Magdalene. The account is, of course, addressed to succeeding generations, but the salient point is that Thomas doesn’t stand condemned for his fidelity. Even so, the early councils of the Church would not be content with faith as mere obedience to divine precept and the exercise of goodwill to others. Instead, they insisted on a legalistic, faith-based version, in which a weekly statement of what one actually, literally believes is required of its participants. Thus did the Church hand the Enlightenment, and its current crop of science apostles, the free gift of an evidentiary case against itself.
The visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, the phenomenal and the noumenal are no longer the distinct realms they once were
In contrast to Thomas, contemporary scepticism takes the form of playing along with the racket because there seems to be no alternative, while privately knowing that it can’t deliver what it promises. In this cast of mind, somebody’s hyperventilating tale of a translucent wraith seen drifting about the stately home, or the disembodied footsteps that clatter up and down the stairs when everybody is tucked up in bed, is neither more nor less believable than the long-range weather forecast. The dignity of spooky stories was that, unlike obvious tissues of lies, they occasionally managed to cross the divide between the highly unlikely and the just barely credible. If they could never be proved, neither could they ever be disproved — except by pointing to the laws of physics, an alienating language spoken by experts who couldn’t conceal their contempt for ordinary gullibility. Now that so much of the culture of the spectacle evokes the same response, the laws of physics have no greater claim to finality than do poorly produced video-hoaxes on YouTube.
The visible and the invisible, the material and the spiritual, the phenomenal and the noumenal are no longer the distinct realms they once were. They have become mutually permeable to their mutual diminishment. We seem to see to the heart of things, to what Kant knew as the thing-in-itself, to a degree undreamed of at the high-water mark of pure reason in the 18th century. The cameras of natural history programming miss nothing, even at the cellular level, even in pitch dark, and yet everything looks like the video that it is. There are those who continue to believe the Moon landings were a hoax just because the film evidence looks so fake, and could so easily have been produced in a studio. By contrast, the notorious black-and-white alien autopsy footage from Roswell, New Mexico is an insultingly obvious fraud, as educated people reassured each other at the film’s emergence in 1995, having forgotten for a moment that the absurdity lay not in the cinematography but in the very idea of a humanoid space-creature.
Seeing and believing used to belong together only when they occurred in the mass. When individuals claimed to have seen something extraordinary — a man with two heads, the Niagara Falls, tombs in the desert crammed with gold — their testimony was a challenge to credulity until it was demonstrated to be true. René Descartes undertook ‘never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt’. Doubt was the primary basis for the rationalism of the Enlightenment, so the first witness to the miraculous had to be seen to have seen. In the age of electronic mass media, when so much flashes around the world instantaneously, when video clips, in a telling usage, ‘go viral’, there should be no doubt about what is real and what isn’t. Yet the critical mass is no longer critical. There is an air of the semblance, of ‘facticity’, about what we are urged to look at. The very fact that it is shrieking for public attention tends to speak against it.
A couple of years ago, I saw a documentary about the UK’s dwindling UFO sightings. Various people who had reported them in the past were invited to relive their experiences, often going back to the very places where the incidents had taken place. Some of the interviewees were still as unshakeably convinced of the concrete reality of what they had seen as they were at the time, though the thrust of the programme was towards likely explanations, set against the general cultural fascination there once was in the idea of alien civilisations. One man had seen a mysterious object in the sky, some time (if memory serves) in the late 1980s. He had drawn a sketch of it soon after. Hearteningly enough, it was identical to mine.
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is the author of several books about cultural history and philosophy, including In the Realm of the Senses: A Materialist Theory of Seeing and Feeling (2015), A Natural History of Human Emotions (2005) and Intoxicology: A Cultural History of Drink and Drugs (2001, 2016), as well as a novel, The First Day in Paradise (2016). His writing has appeared in The Guardian, The London Magazine and Review 31, among others. His monograph Neglected or Misunderstood: Introducing Theodor Adorno is forthcoming from Zero Books (2017). He lives in England.
For other uses, see Unidentified flying object (disambiguation).
"UFO" redirects here. For other uses, see UFO (disambiguation).
"ufo" redirects here. For the genus of gall-wasps, see Ufo (genus).
An unidentified flying object or UFO, is defined as a perceived object in the sky, not identifiable by standard criteria. Most UFOs are later identified as conventional objects or phenomena. The term is widely used for claimed observations of extraterrestrial craft.
The term "UFO" (or "UFOB") was coined in 1953 by the United States Air Force (USAF) to serve as a catch-all for all such reports. In its initial definition, the USAF stated that a "UFOB" was "any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object." Accordingly, the term was initially restricted to that fraction of cases which remained unidentified after investigation, as the USAF was interested in potential national security reasons and/or "technical aspects" (see Air Force Regulation 200-2).
During the late 1940s and through the 1950s, UFOs were often referred to popularly as "flying saucers" or "flying discs". The term UFO became more widespread during the 1950s, at first in technical literature, but later in popular use. UFOs garnered considerable interest during the Cold War, an era associated with a heightened concern for national security, and, more recently, in the 2010s, for unexplained reasons. Nevertheless, various studies have concluded that the phenomenon does not represent a threat to national security, nor does it contain anything worthy of scientific pursuit (e.g., 1951 Flying Saucer Working Party, 1953 CIARobertson Panel, USAF Project Blue Book, Condon Committee).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a UFO as "An unidentified flying object; a 'flying saucer'." The first published book to use the word was authored by Donald E. Keyhoe.
The acronym "UFO" was coined by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who headed Project Blue Book, then the USAF's official investigation of UFOs. He wrote, "Obviously the term 'flying saucer' is misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance. For this reason the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-foe) for short." Other phrases that were used officially and that predate the UFO acronym include "flying flapjack", "flying disc", "unexplained flying discs", and "unidentifiable object".
The phrase "flying saucer" had gained widespread attention after the summer of 1947. On June 24, a civilian pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine objects flying in formation near Mount Rainier. Arnold timed the sighting and estimated the speed of discs to be over 1,200 mph (1,931 km/h). At the time, he claimed he described the objects flying in a saucer-like fashion, leading to newspaper accounts of "flying saucers" and "flying discs".
In popular usage, the term UFO came to be used to refer to claims of alien spacecraft. and because of the public and media ridicule associated with the topic, some ufologists and investigators prefer to use terms such as "unidentified aerial phenomenon" (UAP) or "anomalous phenomena", as in the title of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP). "Anomalous aerial vehicle" (AAV) or "unidentified aerial system" (UAS) are also sometimes used in a military aviation context to describe unidentified targets.
Studies have established that the majority of UFO observations are misidentified conventional objects or natural phenomena—most commonly aircraft, balloons, noctilucent clouds, nacreous clouds, or astronomical objects such as meteors or bright planets with a small percentage even being hoaxes.[note 1] Between 5% and 20% of reported sightings are not explained, and therefore can be classified as unidentified in the strictest sense. While proponents of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) suggest that these unexplained reports are of alien spacecraft, the null hypothesis cannot be excluded that these reports are simply other more prosaic phenomena that cannot be identified due to lack of complete information or due to the necessary subjectivity of the reports.
While UFOs have been the subject of extensive investigation by various governments and although a few scientists have supported the extraterrestrial hypothesis, almost no scientific papers about UFOs have been published in peer-reviewed journals. There was, in the past, some debate in the scientific community about whether any scientific investigation into UFO sightings is warranted with the general conclusion being that the phenomenon was not worthy of serious investigation except as a cultural artifact.
The void left by the lack of institutional scientific study has given rise to independent researchers and groups, including the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in the mid-20th century and, more recently, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). The term "Ufology" is used to describe the collective efforts of those who study reports and associated evidence of unidentified flying objects.
UFOs have become a prevalent theme in modern culture, and the social phenomena have been the subject of academic research in sociology and psychology.
Unexplained aerial observations have been reported throughout history. Some were undoubtedly astronomical in nature: comets, bright meteors, one or more of the five planets that can be seen with the naked eye, planetary conjunctions, or atmospheric optical phenomena such as parhelia and lenticular clouds. An example is Halley's Comet, which was recorded first by Chinese astronomers in 240 BC and possibly as early as 467 BC. Such sightings throughout history often were treated as supernatural portents, angels, or other religious omens. Some current-day UFO researchers have noticed similarities between some religious symbols in medieval paintings and UFO reports though the canonical and symbolic character of such images is documented by art historians placing more conventional religious interpretations on such images.
- On April 14, 1561, residents of Nuremberg described the appearance of a large black triangular object. According to witnesses, there were also hundreds of spheres, cylinders and other odd-shaped objects that moved erratically overhead.
- On January 25, 1878, the Denison Daily News printed an article in which John Martin, a local farmer, had reported seeing a large, dark, circular object resembling a balloon flying "at wonderful speed." Martin, according to the newspaper account, said it appeared to be about the size of a saucer, the first known use of the word "saucer" in association with a UFO.
- In April 1897, thousands of people reported seeing "airships" in various parts of the United States. Many signed affidavits. Scores of people even reported talking to the pilots. Thomas Edison was asked his opinion, and said, "You can take it from me that it is a pure fake."
- On February 28, 1904, there was a sighting by three crew members on the USS Supply 300 miles (483 km) west of San Francisco, reported by Lieutenant Frank Schofield, later to become Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Battle Fleet. Schofield wrote of three bright red egg-shaped and circular objects flying in echelon formation that approached beneath the cloud layer, then changed course and "soared" above the clouds, departing directly away from the earth after two to three minutes. The largest had an apparent size of about six Suns, he said.
- The three earliest known pilot UFO sightings, of 1,305 similar sightings catalogued by NARCAP, took place in 1916 and 1926. On January 31, 1916, a UK pilot near Rochford reported a row of lights, resembling lighted windows on a railway carriage, that rose and disappeared. In January 1926 a pilot reported six "flying manhole covers" between Wichita, Kansas, and Colorado Springs, Colorado. In late September 1926 an airmail pilot over Nevada said he had been forced to land by a huge, wingless, cylindrical object.
- On August 5, 1926, while traveling in the Humboldt Mountains of Tibet's Kokonor region, Russian explorer Nicholas Roerich reported, members of his expedition saw "something big and shiny reflecting the sun, like a huge oval moving at great speed. Crossing our camp the thing changed in its direction from south to southwest. And we saw how it disappeared in the intense blue sky. We even had time to take our field glasses and saw quite distinctly an oval form with shiny surface, one side of which was brilliant from the sun." Another description by Roerich was of a "shiny body flying from north to south. Field glasses are at hand. It is a huge body. One side glows in the sun. It is oval in shape. Then it somehow turns in another direction and disappears in the southwest."
- In the Pacific and European theatres during World War II, "foo fighters" (metallic spheres, balls of light and other shapes that followed aircraft) were reported and on occasion photographed by Allied and Axis pilots. Some proposed Allied explanations at the time included St. Elmo's fire, the planet Venus, hallucinations from oxygen deprivation, or German secret weapons.
- In 1946, more than 2,000 reports were collected, primarily by the Swedish military, of unidentified aerial objects over the Scandinavian nations, along with isolated reports from France, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The objects were referred to as "Russian hail" and later as "ghost rockets" because it was thought that the mysterious objects were possibly Russian tests of captured German V1 or V2rockets. Although most were thought to be such natural phenomena as meteors, more than 200 were tracked on radar by the Swedish military and deemed to be "real physical objects." In a 1948 top secret document, Swedish authorities advised the USAF Europe that some of their investigators believed these craft to be extraterrestrial in origin.
UFOs have been subject to investigations over the years that varied widely in scope and scientific rigor. Governments or independent academics in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Peru, France, Belgium, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Spain, and the Soviet Union are known to have investigated UFO reports at various times.
Among the best known government studies are the ghost rockets investigation by the Swedish military (1946–1947), Project Blue Book, previously Project Sign and Project Grudge, conducted by the USAF from 1947 until 1969, the secret U.S. Army/Air Force Project Twinkle investigation into green fireballs (1948–1951), the secret USAF Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14 by the Battelle Memorial Institute, and the Brazilian Air Force's 1977 Operação Prato (Operation Saucer). France has had an ongoing investigation (GEPAN/SEPRA/GEIPAN) within its space agency Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES) since 1977; the government of Uruguay has had a similar investigation since 1989.
Main article: Project Sign
Project Sign in 1948 produced a highly classified finding (see Estimate of the Situation) that the best UFO reports probably had an extraterrestrial explanation. A top secret Swedish military opinion given to the USAF in 1948 stated that some of their analysts believed that the 1946 ghost rockets and later flying saucers had extraterrestrial origins. (For document, see Ghost rockets.) In 1954 German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth revealed that an internal West German government investigation, which he headed, had arrived at an extraterrestrial conclusion, but this study was never made public.
Main article: Project Grudge
Project Sign was dismantled and became Project Grudge at the end of 1948. Angered by the low quality of investigations by Grudge, the Air Force Director of Intelligence reorganized it as Project Blue Book in late 1951, placing Ruppelt in charge. Blue Book closed down in 1970, using the Condon Committee's negative conclusion as a rationale, thus ending official Air Force UFO investigations. However, a 1969 USAF document, known as the Bolender memo, along with later government documents, revealed that non-public U.S. government UFO investigations continued after 1970. The Bolender memo first stated that "reports of unidentified flying objects that could affect national security ... are not part of the Blue Book system," indicating that more serious UFO incidents already were handled outside the public Blue Book investigation. The memo then added, "reports of UFOs which could affect national security would continue to be handled through the standard Air Force procedures designed for this purpose."[note 2] In addition, in the late 1960s a chapter on UFOs in the Space Sciences course at the U.S. Air Force Academy gave serious consideration to possible extraterrestrial origins. When word of the curriculum became public, the Air Force in 1970 issued a statement to the effect that the book was outdated and that cadets instead were being informed of the Condon Report's negative conclusion.
USAF Regulation 200-2
Air Force Regulation 200-2, issued in 1953 and 1954, defined an Unidentified Flying Object ("UFOB") as "any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object." The regulation also said UFOBs were to be investigated as a "possible threat to the security of the United States" and "to determine technical aspects involved." The regulation went on to say that "it is permissible to inform news media representatives on UFOB's when the object is positively identified as a familiar object," but added: "For those objects which are not explainable, only the fact that ATIC [Air Technical Intelligence Center] will analyze the data is worthy of release, due to many unknowns involved."
Project Blue Book
Main article: Project Blue Book
J. Allen Hynek, a trained astronomer who served as a scientific advisor for Project Blue Book, was initially skeptical of UFO reports, but eventually came to the conclusion that many of them could not be satisfactorily explained and was highly critical of what he described as "the cavalier disregard by Project Blue Book of the principles of scientific investigation." Leaving government work, he founded the privately funded CUFOS, to whose work he devoted the rest of his life. Other private groups studying the phenomenon include the MUFON, a grass roots organization whose investigator's handbooks go into great detail on the documentation of alleged UFO sightings.
Like Hynek, Jacques Vallée, a scientist and prominent UFO researcher, has pointed to what he believes is the scientific deficiency of most UFO research, including government studies. He complains of the mythology and cultism often associated with the phenomenon, but alleges that several hundred professional scientists—a group both he and Hynek have termed "the invisible college"—continue to study UFOs in private.
The study of UFOs has received little support in mainstream scientific literature. Official studies ended in the U.S. in December 1969, following the statement by the government scientist Edward Condon that further study of UFOs could not be justified on grounds of scientific advancement. The Condon Report and its conclusions were endorsed by the National Academy of Scientists, of which Condon was a member. On the other hand, a scientific review by the UFO subcommittee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) disagreed with Condon's conclusion, noting that at least 30 percent of the cases studied remained unexplained and that scientific benefit might be gained by continued study.
Critics argue that all UFO evidence is anecdotal and can be explained as prosaic natural phenomena. Defenders of UFO research counter that knowledge of observational data, other than what is reported in the popular media, is limited in the scientific community and that further study is needed.
No official government investigation has ever publicly concluded that UFOs are indisputably real, physical objects, extraterrestrial in origin, or of concern to national defense. These same negative conclusions also have been found in studies that were highly classified for many years, such as the UK's Flying Saucer Working Party, Project Condign, the U.S. CIA-sponsored Robertson Panel, the U.S. military investigation into the green fireballs from 1948 to 1951, and the Battelle Memorial Institute study for the USAF from 1952 to 1955 (Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14).
Some public government reports have acknowledged the possibility of physical reality of UFOs, but have stopped short of proposing extraterrestrial origins, though not dismissing the possibility entirely. Examples are the Belgian military investigation into large triangles over their airspace in 1989–1991 and the 2009 Uruguayan Air Force study conclusion (see below).
Some private studies have been neutral in their conclusions, but argued that the inexplicable core cases call for continued scientific study. Examples are the Sturrock panel study of 1998 and the 1970 AIAA review of the Condon Report.
U.S. investigations into UFOs include:
- The Interplanetary Phenomenon Unit (IPU), established by the U.S. Army sometime in the 1940s, and about which little is known. In 1987, British UFO researcher Timothy Good received from the Army's director of counter-intelligence a letter confirming the existence of the IPU. The letter stated that "the aforementioned Army unit was disestablished during the late 1950s and never reactivated. All records pertaining to this unit were surrendered to the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations in conjunction with operation BLUEBOOK." The IPU records have never been released.
- Project Blue Book, previously Project Sign and Project Grudge, conducted by the USAF from 1947 until 1969
- The secret U.S. Army/Air Force Project Twinkle investigation into green fireballs (1948–1951)
- Ghost rockets investigations by the Swedish, UK, U.S., and Greek militaries (1946–1947)
- The secret CIA Office of Scientific Investigation (OS/I) study (1952–53)
- The secret CIA Robertson Panel (1953)
- The secret USAF Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14 by the Battelle Memorial Institute (1951–1954)
- The Brookings Report (1960), commissioned by NASA
- The public Condon Committee (1966–1968)
- The private, internal RAND Corporation study (1968)
- The private Sturrock panel (1998)
- The secret Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program which was funded from 2007 to 2012.
Thousands of documents released under FOIA also indicate that many U.S. intelligence agencies collected (and still collect) information on UFOs. These agencies include the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), FBI, CIA, National Security Agency (NSA), as well as military intelligence agencies of the Army and U.S. Navy, in addition to the Air Force.[note 3]
The investigation of UFOs has also attracted many civilians, who in the U.S formed research groups such as NICAP (active 1956–1980), Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) (active 1952–1988), MUFON (active 1969–), and CUFOS (active 1973–).
In November 2011, the White House released an official response to two petitions asking the U.S. government to acknowledge formally that aliens have visited this planet and to disclose any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings. According to the response, "The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race." Also, according to the response, there is "no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye." The response further noted that efforts, like SETI and NASA's Kepler space telescope and Mars Science Laboratory, continue looking for signs of life. The response noted "odds are pretty high" that there may be life on other planets but "the odds of us making contact with any of them—especially any intelligent ones—are extremely small, given the distances involved."
Following the large U.S. surge in sightings in June and early July 1947, on July 9, 1947, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) intelligence, in cooperation with the FBI, began a formal investigation into selected sightings with characteristics that could not be immediately rationalized, such as Kenneth Arnold's. The USAAF used "all of its top scientists" to determine whether "such a phenomenon could, in fact, occur." The research was "being conducted with the thought that the flying objects might be a celestial phenomenon," or that "they might be a foreign body mechanically devised and controlled." Three weeks later in a preliminary defense estimate, the air force investigation decided that, "This 'flying saucer' situation is not all imaginary or seeing too much in some natural phenomenon. Something is really flying around."
A further review by the intelligence and technical divisions of the Air Materiel Command at Wright Field reached the same conclusion. It reported that "the phenomenon is something real and not visionary or fictitious," that there were objects in the shape of a disc, metallic in appearance, and as big as man-made aircraft. They were characterized by "extreme rates of climb [and] maneuverability," general lack of noise, absence of trail, occasional formation flying, and "evasive" behavior "when sighted or contacted by friendly aircraft and radar," suggesting a controlled craft. It was therefore recommended in late September 1947 that an official Air Force investigation be set up to investigate the phenomenon. It was also recommended that other government agencies should assist in the investigation.[note 4]
This led to the creation of the Air Force's Project Sign at the end of 1947, one of the earliest government studies to come to a secret extraterrestrial conclusion. In August 1948, Sign investigators wrote a top-secret intelligence estimate to that effect, but the Air Force Chief of StaffHoyt Vandenberg ordered it destroyed. The existence of this suppressed report was revealed by several insiders who had read it, such as astronomer and USAF consultant J. Allen Hynek and Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt, the first head of the USAF's Project Blue Book.
Another highly classified U.S. study was conducted by the CIA's Office of Scientific Investigation (OS/I) in the latter half of 1952 in response to orders from the National Security Council (NSC). This study concluded UFOs were real physical objects of potential threat to national security. One OS/I memo to the CIA Director (DCI) in December read:
the reports of incidents convince us that there is something going on that must have immediate attention ... Sightings of unexplained objects at great altitudes and traveling at high speeds in the vicinity of major U.S. defense installations are of such a nature that they are not attributable to natural phenomena or any known types of aerial vehicles.
The matter was considered so urgent that OS/I drafted a memorandum from the DCI to the NSC proposing that the NSC establish an investigation of UFOs as a priority project throughout the intelligence and the defense research and development community. It also urged the DCI to establish an external research project of top-level scientists, now known as the Robertson Panel to analyze the problem of UFOs. The OS/I investigation was called off after the Robertson Panel's negative conclusions in January 1953.
Main article: Condon Committee
A public research effort conducted by the Condon Committee for the USAF, which arrived at a negative conclusion in 1968, marked the end of the U.S. government's official investigation of UFOs, though various government intelligence agencies continue unofficially to investigate or monitor the situation.[note 5]
Controversy has surrounded the Condon Report, both before and after it was released. It has been observed that the report was "harshly criticized by numerous scientists, particularly at the powerful AIAA ... [which] recommended moderate, but continuous scientific work on UFOs." In an address to the AAAS, James E. McDonald stated that he believed science had failed to mount adequate studies of the problem and criticized the Condon Report and earlier studies by the USAF as scientifically deficient. He also questioned the basis for Condon's conclusions and argued that the reports of UFOs have been "laughed out of scientific court." J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer who worked as a USAF consultant from 1948, sharply criticized the Condon Committee Report and later wrote two nontechnical books that set forth the case for continuing to investigate UFO reports.
Ruppelt recounted his experiences with Project Blue Book, a USAF investigation that preceded Condon's.
- The Roswell UFO incident (1947) involved New Mexico residents, local law enforcement officers, and the U.S. military, the latter of whom allegedly collected physical evidence from the UFO crash site.
- The Mantell UFO incident January 7, 1948
- The Betty and Barney Hill abduction (1961) was the first reported abduction incident.
- In the Kecksburg UFO incident, Pennsylvania (1965), residents reported seeing a bell shaped object crash in the area. Police officers, and possibly military personnel, were sent to investigate.
- The Travis Walton abduction case (1975): The movie Fire in the Sky (1993) was based on this event, but greatly embellished the original account.
- The "Phoenix Lights" March 13, 1997
- 2006 O'Hare International Airport UFO sighting
In Canada, the Department of National Defence has dealt with reports, sightings and investigations of UFOs across Canada. In addition to conducting investigations into crop circles in Duhamel, Alberta, it still considers "unsolved" the Falcon Lake incident in Manitoba and the Shag Harbour UFO incident in Nova Scotia.
Early Canadian studies included Project Magnet (1950–1954) and Project Second Storey (1952–1954), supported by the Defence Research Board.
On March 2007, the French space agency CNES published an archive of UFO sightings and other phenomena online.
French studies include GEPAN/SEPRA/GEIPAN (1977–), within CNES (French space agency), the longest ongoing government-sponsored investigation. About 22% of 6000 cases studied remain unexplained. The official opinion of GEPAN/SEPRA/GEIPAN has been neutral, stating on their FAQ page that their mission is fact-finding for the scientific community, not rendering an opinion. They add they can neither prove nor disprove the Exterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), but their Steering Committee's clear position is that they cannot discard the possibility that some fraction of the very strange 22% of unexplained cases might be due to distant and advanced civilizations. Possibly their bias may be indicated by their use of the terms "PAN" (French) or "UAP" (English equivalent) for "Unidentified Aerospace Phenomenon" (whereas "UAP" as normally used by English organizations stands for "Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon", a more neutral term). In addition, the three heads of the studies have gone on record in stating that UFOs were real physical flying machines beyond our knowledge or that the best explanation for the most inexplicable cases was an extraterrestrial one.
In 2008, Michel Scheller, president of the Association Aéronautique et Astronautique de France (3AF), created the Sigma Commission. Its purpose was to investigate UFO phenomenon worldwide. A progress report published in May 2010 stated that the central hypothesis proposed by the COMETA report is perfectly credible. In December 2012, the final report of the Sigma Commission was submitted to Scheller. Following the submission of the final report, the Sigma2 Commission is to be formed with a mandate to continue the scientific investigation of UFO phenomenon.
The most notable cases of UFO sightings in France include the Valensole UFO incident in 1965, and the Trans-en-Provence Case in 1981.
According to some Italian ufologists, the first documented case of a UFO sighting in Italy dates back to April 11, 1933, to Varese. Documents of the time show that an alleged UFO crashed or landed near Vergiate. Following this, Benito Mussolini created a secret group to look at it, called Cabinet RS/33.
Alleged UFO sightings gradually increased since the war, peaking in 1978 and 2005. The total number of sightings since 1947 are 18,500, of which 90% are identifiable.
In 2000, Italian ufologist Roberto Pinotti published material regarding the so-called "Fascist UFO Files", which dealt with a flying saucer that had crashed near Milan in 1933 (some 14 years before the Roswell, New Mexico, crash), and of the subsequent investigation by a never mentioned before Cabinet RS/33, that allegedly was authorized by Benito Mussolini, and headed by the Nobel scientist Guglielmo Marconi. A spaceship was allegedly stored in the hangars of the SIAI Marchetti in Vergiate near Milan.
Julius Obsequens was a Roman writer who is believed to have lived in the middle of the fourth century AD. The only work associated with his name is the Liber de prodigiis (Book of Prodigies), completely extracted from an epitome, or abridgment, written by Livy; De prodigiis was constructed as an account of the wonders and portents that occurred in Rome between 249 BC-12 BC. An aspect of Obsequens' work that has inspired much interest in some circles is that references are made to things moving through the sky. These have been interpreted as reports of UFOs, but may just as well describe meteors, and, since Obsequens, probably, writes in the 4th century, that is, some 400 years after the events he describes, they hardly qualify as eye-witness accounts.
- A UFO sighting in Florence, October 28, 1954, followed by a fall of angel hair.
- In 1973, an Alitalia airplane left Rome for Naples sighted a mysterious round object. Two Italian Air Force planes from Ciampino confirmed the sighting. In the same year there was another sighting at Caselle airport near Turin.
- In 1978, two young hikers, while walking on Monte Musinè near Turin, saw a bright light; one of them temporarily disappeared and, after a while, was found in a state of shock and with a noticeable scald on one leg. After regaining consciousness, he reported having seen an elongated vehicle and that some strangely shaped beings descended from it. Both the young hikers suffered from conjunctivitis for some time.
- A close encounter reported in September 1978 in Torrita di Siena in the Province of Siena. A young motorist saw in front of him a bright object, two beings of small stature who wore suits and helmets, the two approached the car, and after watching it carefully went back and rose again to the UFO. A boy who lived with his family in a country house not far from there said he had seen at the same time "a kind of small reddish sun".
- Yet in 1978, there has been also the story of Pier Fortunato Zanfretta, the best known and most controversial case of an Italian alleged alien abduction. Zanfretta said to have been kidnapped on the night of 6 December and 7 December while he was performing his job at Marzano, in the municipality of Torriglia in the Province of Genoa; 52 testimonies of the case from other people were collected.
The UK's Flying Saucer Working Party published its final report in June 1951, which remained secret for over 50 years. The Working Party concluded that all UFO sightings could be explained as misidentifications of ordinary objects or phenomena, optical illusions, psychological misperceptions/aberrations, or hoaxes. The report stated: "We accordingly recommend very strongly that no further investigation of reported mysterious aerial phenomena be undertaken, unless and until some material evidence becomes available."
Eight file collections on UFO sightings, dating from 1978 to 1987, were first released on May 14, 2008, to The National Archives by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). Although kept secret from the public for many years, most of the files have low levels of classification and none are classified Top Secret. 200 files are set to be made public by 2012. The files are correspondence from the public sent to the British government and officials, such as the MoD and Margaret Thatcher. The MoD released the files under the Freedom of Information Act due to requests from researchers. These files include, but are not limited to, UFOs over Liverpool and the Waterloo Bridge in London.
On October 20, 2008, more UFO files were released. One case released detailed that in 1991 an Alitalia passenger aircraft was approaching London Heathrow Airport when the pilots saw what they described as a "cruise missile" fly extremely close to the cockpit. The pilots believed that a collision was imminent. UFO expert David Clarke says that this is one of the most convincing cases for a UFO he has come across.
A secret study of UFOs was undertaken for the Ministry of Defence between 1996 and 2000 and was code-named Project Condign. The resulting report, titled "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Defence Region", was publicly released in 2006, but the identity and credentials of whomever constituted Project Condign remains classified. The report confirmed earlier findings that the main causes of UFO sightings are misidentification of man-made and natural objects. The report noted: "No artefacts of unknown or unexplained origin have been reported or handed to the UK authorities, despite thousands of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena reports. There are no SIGINT, ELINT or radiation measurements and little useful video or still IMINT." It concluded: "There is no evidence that any UAP, seen in the UKADR [UK Air Defence Region], are incursions by air-objects of any intelligent (extraterrestrial or foreign) origin, or that they represent any hostile intent." A little-discussed conclusion of the report was that novel meteorological plasma phenomenon akin to ball lightning are responsible for "the majority, if not all" of otherwise inexplicable sightings, especially reports of black triangle UFOs.
On December 1, 2009, the Ministry of Defence quietly closed down its UFO investigations unit. The unit's hotline and email address were suspended by the MoD on that date. The MoD said there was no value in continuing to receive and investigate sightings in a release, stating
in over fifty years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom. The MoD has no specific capability for identifying the nature of such sightings. There is no Defence benefit in such investigation and it would be an inappropriate use of defence resources. Furthermore, responding to reported UFO sightings diverts MoD resources from tasks that are relevant to Defence."
The Guardian reported that the MoD claimed the closure would save the Ministry around £50,000 a year. The MoD said that it would continue to release UFO files to the public through The National Archives.
According to records released on August 5, 2010, British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill banned the reporting for 50 years of an alleged UFO incident because of fears it could create mass panic. Reports given to Churchill asserted that the incident involved a Royal Air Force (RAF) reconnaissance aircraft returning from a mission in France or Germany toward the end of World War II. It was over or near the English coastline when it was allegedly intercepted by a strange metallic object that matched the aircraft's course and speed for a time before accelerating away and disappearing. The aircraft's crew were reported to have photographed the object, which they said had "hovered noiselessly" near the aircraft, before moving off. According to the documents, details of the coverup emerged when a man wrote to the government in 1999 seeking to find out more about the incident and described how his grandfather, who had served with the RAF in the war, was present when Churchill and U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower discussed how to deal with the UFO encounter. The files come from more than 5,000 pages of UFO reports, letters and drawings from members of the public, as well as questions raised in Parliament. They are available to download from The National Archives website.
In the April 1957 West Freugh incident in Scotland, named after the principal military base involved, two unidentified objects flying high over the UK were tracked by radar operators. The objects were reported to operate at speeds and perform maneuvers beyond the capability of any known craft. Also significant is their alleged size, which – based on the radar returns – was closer to that of a ship than an aircraft.
In the Rendlesham Forest incident of December 1980, U.S. military personnel witnessed UFOs near the air base at Woodbridge, Suffolk, over a period of three nights. On one night the deputy base commander, Colonel Charles I. Halt, and other personnel followed one or more UFOs that were moving in and above the forest for several hours. Col. Halt made an audio recording while this was happening and subsequently wrote an official memorandum summarizing the incident. After retirement from the military, he said that he had deliberately downplayed the event (officially termed 'Unexplained Lights') to avoid damaging his career. Other base personnel are said to have observed one of the UFOs, which had landed in the forest, and even gone up to and touched it.
The Uruguayan Air Force has conducted UFO investigations since 1989 and reportedly analyzed 2,100 cases of which they regard approximately 2% as lacking explanation.
The USAF's Project Blue Book files indicate that approximately 1% of all unknown reports came from amateur and professional astronomers or other users of telescopes (such as missile trackers or surveyors). In 1952, astronomer J. Allen Hynek, then a consultant to Blue Book, conducted a small survey of 45 fellow professional astronomers. Five reported UFO sightings (about 11%). In the 1970s, astrophysicist Peter A. Sturrock conducted two large surveys of the AIAA and American Astronomical Society (AAS). About 5% of the members polled indicated that they had had UFO sightings.
Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who admitted to six UFO sightings, including three green fireballs, supported the Extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs and stated he thought scientists who dismissed it without study were being "unscientific." Another astronomer was Lincoln LaPaz, who had headed the Air Force's investigation into the green fireballs and other UFO phenomena in New Mexico. LaPaz reported two personal sightings, one of a green fireball, the other of an anomalous disc-like object. (Both Tombaugh and LaPaz were part of Hynek's 1952 survey.) Hynek himself took two photos through the window of a commercial airliner of a disc-like object that seemed to pace his aircraft.
In 1980, a survey of 1800 members of various amateur astronomer associations by Gert Helb and Hynek for CUFOS found that 24% responded "yes" to the question "Have you ever observed an object which resisted your most exhaustive efforts at identification?"
Claims of increase in reports
MUFON reports that UFO sightings to their offices have increased by 67% in the previous three years as of 2011. According to MUFON international director Clifford Clift in 2011, "Over the past year, we've been averaging 500 sighting reports a month, compared to about 300 three years ago [67 percent],".
According to the annual survey of reports conducted by Canadian-based UFO research group Ufology Research, reported UFO sightings doubled in Canada between 2011 and 2012.
In 2013 the Peruvian government's Departamento de Investigación de Fenómenos Aéreos Anómalos (Anomalous Aerial Phenomena Research Department), or "DIFAA", was officially reactivated due to an increase in reported sightings. According to Colonel Julio Vucetich, head of the air force's aerospace interests division who himself claims to have seen an "anomalous aerial object", "On a personal basis, it's evident to me that we are not alone in this world or universe."
In contrast, according to the UK-based Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), reports of sightings in Britain to their office have declined by 96% since 1988.
Identification of UFOs
Main article: Identification studies of UFOs
Studies show that after careful investigation, the majority of UFOs can be identified as ordinary objects or phenomena. The most commonly found identified sources of UFO reports are:
- Astronomical objects (bright stars, planets, meteors, re-entering man-made spacecraft, artificial satellites, and the Moon)
- Aircraft (aerial advertising and other aircraft, missilelaunches)
- Balloons (toy balloons, weather balloons, large research balloons)
- Other atmospheric objects and phenomena (birds, unusual clouds, kites, flares)
- Light phenomena mirages, Fata Morgana, ball lightning, moon dogs, searchlights and other ground lights, etc.
A 1952–1955 study by the Battelle Memorial Institute for the USAF included these categories as well as a "psychological" one.
An individual 1979 study by CUFOS researcher Allan Hendry found, as did other investigations, that only a small percentage of cases he investigated were hoaxes (<1 %) and that most sightings were actually honest misidentifications of prosaic phenomena. Hendry attributed most of these to inexperience or misperception.
Claims by military, government, and aviation personnel
Since 2001 there have been calls for greater openness on the part of the government by various persons. In May 2001, a press conference was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., by an organization called the Disclosure Project, featuring twenty persons including retired Air Force and FAA personnel, intelligence officers and an air traffic controller. They all gave a brief account of what they knew or had witnessed, and stated that they would be willing to testify to what they had said under oath to a Congressional committee. According to a 2002 report in the Oregon Daily Emerald, Disclosure Project founder Steven M. Greer has gathered 120 hours of testimony from various government officials on the topic of UFOs, including astronaut Gordon Cooper and a Brigadier General.
In 2007, former Arizona governor Fife Symington came forward and belatedly claimed that he had seen "a massive, delta-shaped craft silently navigate over Squaw Peak, a mountain range in Phoenix, Arizona" in 1997.
On September 27, 2010, a group of six former USAF officers and one former enlisted Air Force man held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the theme "U.S. Nuclear Weapons Have Been Compromised by Unidentified Aerial Objects." They told how they had witnessed UFOs hovering near missile sites and even disarming the missiles.
From April 29 to May 3, 2013, the Paradigm Research Group held the "Citizen Hearing on Disclosure" at the National Press Club. The group paid former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel and former Representatives Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, Roscoe Bartlett, Merrill Cook, Darlene Hooley, and Lynn Woolsey $20,000 each to hear testimony from a panel of researchers which included witnesses from military, agency, and political backgrounds.
Apollo 14 astronaut Dr Edgar Mitchell claimed that he knew of senior government employees who had been involved in "close encounters" and because of this he has no doubt that aliens have visited Earth.
Main article: Extraterrestrial hypothesis
While technically a UFO refers to any unidentified flying object, in modern popular culture the term UFO has generally become synonymous with alien spacecraft; however, the term ETV (ExtraTerrestrial Vehicle) is sometimes used to separate this explanation of UFOs from totally earthbound explanations.
Besides anecdotal visual sightings, reports sometimes include claims of other kinds of evidence, including cases studied by the military and various government agencies of different countries (such as Project Blue Book, the Condon Committee, the French GEPAN/SEPRA, and Uruguay's current Air Force study).
A comprehensive scientific review of cases where physical evidence was available was carried out by the 1998 Sturrock panel, with specific examples of many of the categories listed below.
- Radar contact and tracking, sometimes from multiple sites. These have included military personnel and control tower operators, simultaneous visual sightings, and aircraft intercepts. One such example were the mass sightings of large, silent, low-flying black triangles in 1989 and 1990 over Belgium, tracked by NATO radar and jet interceptors, and investigated by Belgium's military (included photographic evidence). Another famous case from 1986 was the Japan Air Lines flight 1628 incident over Alaska investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
- Photographic evidence, including still photos, movie film, and video.
- Claims of physical trace of landing UFOs, including ground impressions, burned or desiccated soil, burned and broken foliage, magnetic anomalies[specify], increased radiation levels, and metallic traces. (See, e. g. Height 611 UFO incident or the 1964 Lonnie Zamora's Socorro, New Mexico encounter of the USAF Project Blue Book cases.) A well-known example from December 1980 was the USAF Rendlesham Forest incident in England. Another occurred in January 1981 in Trans-en-Provence and was investigated by GEPAN, then France's official government UFO-investigation agency. Project Blue Book head Edward J. Ruppelt described a classic 1952 CE2 case involving a patch of charred grass roots.
- Physiological effects on people and animals including temporary paralysis, skin burns and rashes, corneal burns, and symptoms superficially resembling radiation poisoning, such as the Cash-Landrum incident in 1980.
- Animal/cattle mutilation cases, that some feel are also part of the UFO phenomenon.
- Biological effects on plants such as increased or decreased growth, germination effects on seeds, and blown-out stem nodes (usually associated with physical trace cases or crop circles)
- Electromagnetic interference (EM) effects. A famous 1976 military case over Tehran, recorded in CIA and DIA classified documents, was associated with communication losses in multiple aircraft and weapons system failure in an F-4 Phantom II jet interceptor as it was about to fire a missile on one of the UFOs.
- Apparent remote radiation detection, some noted in FBI and CIA documents occurring over government nuclear installations at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1950, also reported by Project Blue Book director Edward J. Ruppelt in his book.
- Claimed artifacts of UFOs themselves, such as 1957, Ubatuba, Brazil, magnesium fragments analyzed by the Brazilian government and in the Condon Report and by others. The 1964 Lonnie Zamora incident also left metal traces, analyzed by NASA. A more recent example involves a tear drop-shaped object recovered by Bob White and was featured in a television episode of UFO Hunters.
- Angel hair and angel grass, possibly explained in some cases as nests from ballooning spiders or chaff.
Main article: Ufology
Ufology is a neologism describing the collective efforts of those who study UFO reports and associated evidence.
Main article: List of ufologists
Main article: List of reported UFO sightings
Main article: List of UFO organizations
Some ufologists recommend that observations be classified according to the features of the phenomenon or object that are reported or recorded. Typical categories include:
- Saucer, toy-top, or disk-shaped "craft" without visible or audible propulsion.
- Large triangular "craft" or triangular light pattern, usually reported at night.
- Cigar-shaped "craft" with lighted windows (meteor fireballs are sometimes reported this way, but are very different phenomena).
- Other: chevrons, (equilateral) triangles, crescent, boomerangs, spheres (usually reported to be shining, glowing at night), domes, diamonds, shapeless black masses, eggs, pyramids and cylinders, classic "lights."
Popular UFO classification systems include the Hynek system, created by J. Allen Hynek, and the Vallée system, created by Jacques Vallée.
Hynek's system involves dividing the sighted object by appearance, subdivided further into the type of "close encounter" (a term from which the film director Steven Spielberg derived the title of his 1977 UFO movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind).
Jacques Vallée's system classifies UFOs into five broad types, each with from three to five subtypes that vary according to type.