It’s a controversial topic. Believers a widely held to be cranks and crackpots and, like Bigfoot, may God (or whatever you believe in) be with you if you claim to have actually seen one. Why is this so? Why are there so many people who are unwilling to believe in UFOs? Quite frankly, some of the stories are so out there that it’s hard for any clear thinking adult to attach any credence to them. Most will not deny that, scientifically speaking, there is at least the chance that life exists somewhere else in the universe. After all, the darn thing is so vast it makes no sense that life could not have evolved anywhere else except on our comparatively tiny planet. However, many would have serious problems accepting the existence of civilizations that, in their minds, belong in a Star Trek script.
The concept of UFOs is not a new one, although the term itself wasn’t used until the 1950s. The phrase ‘unidentified flying object’ was coined by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who felt that the existing ‘flying saucer’ was misleading. The term came about after an alleged sighting on June 24th, 1947 by pilot Kenneth Arnold, who described having encountered objects which moved like ‘a saucer skipped over water’. Certainly, not all of the alleged sightings to that point involved saucer shaped craft. And ‘UFO’ was definitely preferable to the other utilized phrases such as ‘flying flapjack’. Who would possibly take something named after a pancake seriously?
It’s for that very reason some people nowadays would rather do away with the whole ‘unidentified flying object’ thing in general and now prefer ‘unidentified aerial phenomenon’ or just ‘anomalous phenomena’. The entire subject has descended into a level of ridicule that has left some fearful to even express their interest. This is evidenced by the fact that, despite the extensive investigations which have taken place over the years, there are still very few scientific studies that have actually been published in peer review journals. And yet unexplained aerial observations are not new.
- January 25th, 1878: John Martin, a local farmer, allegedly saw a large circular object flying ‘at wonderful speed’. He claimed it was about the size of a saucer, and ‘flying saucer’ was born.
- February 28th, 1904: Lt. Frank Schofield reported that three crew members on the USS Supply, stationed west of San Francisco, had seen three bright red objects flying in formation directly beneath the cloud layer, before changing course and disappearing above it.
- August 5th, 1926: Russian explorer Nicholas Roerich, while surveying the Humboldt Mountains in Tibet, claimed the he and members of his expedition all saw an oval-shaped shiny object moving quickly before changing its direction and heading southwest.
These aren’t even the earliest claims. As early as 240 BC, Chinese astronomers recorded what they thought to be a UFO, although it is now known that it was most likely Halley’s Comet. Even paintings have been known to depict items which look suspiciously like UFOs. Sadly, historical sightings were often treated with religious significance, so it is sometimes difficult to extract truth from more religious interpretations. One of the most famous paintings is Carlo Crivelli’s 15th century creation ‘The Annunciation’. A saucer-like object is clearly seen beaming light unto the head of a woman. Was this supposed to represent a UFO, or was it merely the artist’s concept of God’s favor?
While there has been a lack in terms of studies done within the scientific community, it would be wrong to say that no research has been done at all. The governments of many countries, including the United States, France and Uruguay, have all commissioned investigations into the phenomenon. It makes sense since, should UFOs exist, there’s a definite security issue involved with being observed by a more advanced civilization. The United States have led the way with Project Blue Book (1957 – 1969) and Project Twinkle (1947 – 1951). In addition, there has been a rise in the number of independent research bodies. They have found that sightings are only part of the UFO puzzle. Other categories used to indicate the presence of unidentified flying objects include:
- Photographic evidence (videos, etc.),
- Radar contact,
- Landing traces (depressions, burnt or broken foliage, burnt or desiccated soil, etc.),
- Animal mutilation (specifically cattle),
- Physiological effects on people and animals (temporary paralysis, burns/rashes, blindness, etc.)
- Electromagnetic effects,
- Biological effects on plants (increased/decreased growth, etc.),
- Alleged pieces of the UFOs themselves.
The biggest problems faced by UFO investigators are how easy it is to find alternative explanations, and the difficulty involved in obtaining tangible proof. Even photos can be disproved, or surrendered to a simple explanation. What little studies have been done have shown that the majority of UFO sightings are not extra-terrestrial in nature but actually ordinary objects or phenomenon that have been misidentified. These include:
- Aircraft (such as missile launches),
- Astronomical objects (planets, meteors, stars, satellites, etc.),
- Weather balloons,
- Light effects (Fata Morgana, searchlights, etc.),
- Other objects (kites, flares, unusual cloud formations, etc.)
Here’s the kicker though. Every single study done has found some percentage of cases that cannot be explained by any other means. For example, a study by the Battelle Memorial Institute conducted in the 1950s found that roughly 21.5% of the 3,200 cases they examined could not be explained by any of these. Today, most investigators would agree than anywhere from 5 – 20% of all reported events remain unexplained in the strictest sense of the word.