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
In 2011, MUFON reported that UFO sightings referred to their offices had increased by 67% over the past three years as of June, 2011. According to MUFON international director Clifford Clift, “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 had declined by 96% from 1988 to 2012.
Identification 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, missile launches)
– 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.
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, 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.
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.
A scientifically skeptical group that has for many years offered critical analysis of UFO claims is the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).
One example is the response to local beliefs that “extraterrestrial beings” in UFOs were responsible for crop circles appearing in Indonesia, which the government and the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) described as “man-made”. Thomas Djamaluddin, research professor of astronomy and astrophysics at LAPAN stated: “We have come to agree that this ‘thing’ cannot be scientifically proven. Scientists have put UFOs in the category of pseudoscience.”
UFOs are sometimes an element of conspiracy theories in which governments are allegedly intentionally “covering up” the existence of aliens by removing physical evidence of their presence, or even collaborating with extraterrestrial beings. There are many versions of this story; some are exclusive, while others overlap with various other conspiracy theories.
In the U.S., an opinion poll conducted in 1997 suggested that 80% of Americans believed the U.S. government was withholding such information. Various notables have also expressed such views. Some examples are astronauts Gordon Cooper and Edgar Mitchell, Senator Barry Goldwater, Vice Admiral Roscoe H. Hillenkoetter (the first CIA director), Lord Hill-Norton (former British Chief of Defense Staff and NATO head), the 1999 French COMETA study by various French generals and aerospace experts, and Yves Sillard (former director of CNES, new director of French UFO research organization GEIPAN).
It has also been suggested by a few paranormal authors that all or most human technology and culture is based on extraterrestrial contact (see also ancient astronauts).
The Maury Island incident
George Adamski, over the space of two decades, made various claims about his meetings with telepathic aliens from nearby planets. He claimed that photographs of the far side of the Moon taken by the Soviet lunar probe Luna 3 in 1959 were fake, and that there were cities, trees and snow-capped mountains on the far side of the Moon. Among copycats was a shadowy British figure named Cedric Allingham.
Ed Walters, a building contractor, in 1987 allegedly perpetrated a hoax in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Walters claimed at first having seen a small UFO flying near his home and took some photographs of the craft. Walters reported and documented a series of UFO sightings over a period of three weeks and took several photographs. These sightings became famous, and are collectively referred to as the Gulf Breeze UFO incident. Three years later, in 1990, after the Walters family had moved, the new residents discovered a model of a UFO poorly hidden in the attic that bore an undeniable resemblance to the craft in Walters’ photographs. Most investigators, like the forensic photo expert William G. Hyzer, now consider the sightings to be a hoax.
In popular culture
UFOs have constituted a widespread international cultural phenomenon since the 1950s. Gallup Polls rank UFOs near the top of lists for subjects of widespread recognition. In 1973, a survey found that 95 percent of the public reported having heard of UFOs, whereas only 92 percent had heard of U.S. President Gerald Ford in a 1977 poll taken just nine months after he left the White House. A 1996 Gallup Poll reported that 71 percent of the United States population believed that the U.S. government was covering up information regarding UFOs. A 2002 Roper Poll for the Sci-Fi Channel found similar results, but with more people believing that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft. In that latest poll, 56 percent thought UFOs were real craft and 48 percent that aliens had visited the Earth. Again, about 70 percent felt the government was not sharing everything it knew about UFOs or extraterrestrial life.
Another effect of the flying saucer type of UFO sightings has been Earth-made flying saucer craft in space fiction, for example the United Planets Cruiser C57D in Forbidden Planet (1956), the Jupiter 2 in Lost in Space, and the saucer section of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, and many others.
UFOs and extraterrestrials have been featured in many movies.