Unidentified flying object

From Citizendium
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
Catalogs [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.
See also: Extraterrestrial intelligence

Unidentified flying objects (UFOs or U.F.O.s) are aerial phenomena that cannot be readily explained. Most sightings of "UFO"s turn out to be explained by aircraft, birds, heavenly bodies, or other everyday objects. Some can be explained as errors produced by a radar, electro-optical device, or other sensor, some arise from sensory illusions, and some are hoaxes. All investigators concede that some aerial sightings remain unexplained even after examination, but most dismiss the notion that there is any credible evidence that Earth is being, or has been, visited by creatures from other worlds.

The Kenneth Arnold sighting

UFOs became popularly known as flying saucers after a story in the East Oregonian newspaper, on June 26, 1947, reported salesman Kenneth Arnold's sighting of extremely fast-moving, "saucer-like objects" while flying a private plane.[1] A follow-up newspaper story coined the term "flying saucer" to describe the objects that Arnold reported sighting. [2]

In the USA, sightings increased sharply after the Kenneth Arnold sighting, and most were conflated into claims of "flying saucers" or other "vehicles from outer space" that some believed were directed by extraterrestrial intelligences—some skeptics called this "mass hysteria" or "mass delusion".[3] In 1947 the U.S. government began studying them, often in classified projects.

The Roswell incident

"The Air Force research did not locate or develop any information that the "Roswell Incident" was a UFO event nor was there any indication of a "cover-up" by the Government. Information obtained through exhaustive records searches and interviews indicated that the materials recovered near Roswell was consistent with a balloon devise of the type used in a then classified project. No records indicated or even hinted at the recovery of "alien" bodies or extraterrestrial materials." [4][5]

In July 1947, a press release, issued by the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) public information officer, stated that the field's 509th Bomb Group had recovered a crashed "flying disk" from a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. The next day, the press reported the Commanding General of the Eighth Air Force as stating that, in fact, a radar-tracking balloon had been recovered by the RAAF personnel, not a "flying disc." A press conference was shown debris from the crashed object, which seemed to confirm the weather balloon description.

However, thirty years later, in 1978, Major Jesse Marcel, who had been involved with the original recovery of the debris, was interviewed by a ufologist, Stanton T. Friedman. In that interview, Marcel claimed that the military had covered up the recovery of an alien spacecraft. The story was rapidly embellished with allegations of further cover-ups, autopsies of alien bodies, and intimidation of witnesses.

After congressional pressure, the General Accounting Office directed the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force to conduct an investigation. This led to two reports. "The Roswell Report: Fact vs. Fiction in the New Mexico Desert" concluded that the material recovered in 1947 was probably debris from a secret government program, 'Project Mogul', which used high altitude balloons to detect sound waves generated by Soviet atomic bomb tests and ballistic missiles. The second report, released in 1997, concluded that reports of recovered alien bodies were probably a combination of mistaken memories of military accidents and of the recovery of anthropomorphic dummies in military programs, and hoaxes perpetrated by witnesses and UFO proponents.[6] The Center for UFO Studies (see below) disputes this report.[7]


For more information, see: Ufology.

There is a movement, loosely called ufology or Ufology, that investigates and reports phenomena. Much of the reporting is anecdotal and unscientific, but some of the leadership of UFO research centers, such as Mark Rodeghier of the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) and French born UFO researcher Jacques Vallée, participate in much more technical discussions, such as the 1997 symposium on physical evidence from UFOs. Physicist Stanton Friedman is an established UFO researcher.[8] [9] Another is physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who was a member of National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and who later started the Fund for UFO Research. Maccabee has investigated numerous UFO sightings including the Kennet Arnold UFO sighting, the JAL UFO sighting, the Iran Jet case in 1976 and the Gulf Breeze UFO sightings.[10] [11]

Other organizations, such as the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), study UFOs, but not as their sole focus. Peter Sturrock, now Emeritus Professor of Physics at Stanford University, who directed the 1997 "Physical Evidence from UFO Reports" study, "expressed the opinion that this problem will be resolved only by extensive and open professional scientific investigation, and that an essential prerequisite of such research is that more scientists acquire an interest in this topic." [12] However, Philip Klass has written that "SSE's annual conferences typically feature several pro-UFO speakers, but no UFO-skeptics. For example, at SSE's 1996 conference there were four pro-UFO speakers, but no skeptics.[13]

In June 2010, James Carrion, formerly international director of the Mutual UFO Network, set up the Center for UFO Truth, to "answer one question – did the United States and its allies purposely create the UFO myth as part of a cold war deception operation? It makes sense to include the subject of CUT's research efforts in its title." [14]


A panel of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the Condon report, and observed
"there remain UFO sightings that are not easily explained ...[but]... there seems to be no reason to attribute them to an extraterrestrial source without evidence that is much more convincing. ... On the basis of present knowledge the least likely explanation of UFOs is the hypothesis of extraterrestrial visitations by intelligent beings."[15]

In 1947, the United States Air Force began 'Project Blue Book' to collate UFO sightings. It was terminated after the Condon Report (see later) led the Secretary of the Air Force to decide there was no national security value to continuing investigations. A total of 12,618 sightings were reported to the Project, of which 701 remained "Unidentified." [4] Records of the project are in the U.S. National Archives.[4]

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents indicate that the agency monitored the UFO situation from 1952.[16] In 1952, the CIA reacted to the new rash of sightings by forming a special study group within the Office of Scientific Intelligence (OSI) and the Office of Current Intelligence (OCI). Edward Tauss reported for the group that most UFO sightings could be easily explained, but recommended that the Agency continue monitoring the problem, in coordination with the Air Force Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC). He also urged that CIA conceal its interest from the media and the public, "in view of their probable alarmist tendencies".

Upon receiving the report, Deputy Director for Intelligence (DDI) Robert Amory, Jr. assigned responsibility for the UFO investigations to OSI's Physics and Electronics Division. Amory, who asked the group to focus on the national security implications of UFOs, was relaying DCI Walter Bedell Smith's concerns. Smith wanted to know whether or not the Air Force investigation of flying saucers was sufficiently objective and how much more money and manpower would be necessary to determine the cause of the small percentage of unexplained flying saucers. Smith believed "there was only one chance in 10,000 that the phenomenon posed a threat to the security of the country, but even that chance could not be taken." According to Smith, it was CIA's responsibility by statute to coordinate the intelligence effort required to solve the problem. Smith also wanted to know what use could be made of the UFO phenomenon in connection with US psychological warfare efforts.

After the BLUE BOOK report, in 1967, the Air Force issued a contract, to the University of Colorado, for the study of UFOs. The principal investigator from the University was Dr. E.U. Condon, director of the National Bureau of Standards from 1946 to 1950. The project gained some support from the Central Intelligence Agency.[17] The 'Condon Report' was published in 1969.[18]

UFO Classification

Hynek's Classification

  • Nocturnal Disks: Objects seen in the night sky. This is the most commonly reported UFO sighting.
  • Daylight Disks: UFOs that could be seen flying high in the sky or close to the ground. Oval or round disks are commonly seen with this type of UFO sighting.
  • Radar Visual: UFOs that are seen on radar screens while also being visually confirmed by eyewitnesses on the ground.
  • Close Encounter of the First Kind: UFOs that are seen within 200 yards of the witness. There is no interaction between the witness and the UFO.
  • Close Encounter of the Second Kind: Electrical equipment such as a car ignition may operate strangely. Other electrical equipment may malfunction while the UFO is present. Other forms of interaction may include physical effects to plants, animals or human beings. There could be traces of burned grass for example in a Close Encounter of the Second Kind.
  • Close Encounter of the Third Kind: Seeing humanoid like creatures associated with the UFO. There is usually no interaction between the human witness and the humanoid. In some reports there have been interactions reported between the UFO witness and the humanoids.[19]
  • Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Interaction between the UFO witness and abduction by humanoid entities.[20]

Jacques Vallee's UFO Classification

  • AN1: Viewing anomalous lights or explosions in the sky that do not affect the witness or the environment.
  • AN2: Reports that show lasting effects such as flattened grass, poltergeist activity or anomalous photographs.
  • AN3: Cases that include entities. This could include ghosts, yetis (Abominable Snowman), elves, spirits and cryptozoology.
  • AN4: The witness reports interaction with the entities within the reality of the entities themselves. This type of experience could include Near Death Experiences, religious visions and out-of-body experiences (OBEs).[21]

French Space Agency Classification

In 1977 the French space agency, CNES, set up a unit to record witness accounts of abnormal phenomena observed in the sky. [22] [23] They noted there is a perfectly normal explanation for the vast majority of “sightings”, such as the Moon rising, unusual clouds or space debris re-entering the atmosphere. They classified 1600 sightings into four categories:

  • Type A: Complete identification of the phenomenon
  • Type B: Probable identification.
  • Type C: Inadequate information for analysis
  • Type D: Observations are consistent and accurate but cannot be explained in terms of conventional phenomena. 9% of sightings were in this category.

In the USA, there are two well known UFO groups: the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) founded by J. Allen Hynek, who was the chairman of astronomy at Northwestern University, and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) lead by Allen Utke, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Wisconsin State University. Hynek originally doubted that the reports had any substance, but later changed his mind during his research with Project BLUE BOOK.[24]. CUFOS collects UFO reports, maintains a UFO research library, and offers two publications concerning the UFO phenomena. There are two major systems for classifying the reports, first based on shape and other visually observed characteristics, movement, and interaction with the environment or possible entities. In addition, some large data bases categorize by shape or other aspects of visual observations. Some of these classifications assume not only an object that could not be explained, but also indications of a nonhuman intelligence. [25][26]

UFOs have been reported in varying shapes and colors. According to the 'National UFO Reporting Center' (as of July 2010), 12,023 lights have been reported by witnesses, 6,020 triangles, 5,181 circles and 4,784 disks .[27] Reports in the database are transcriptions of witness self-reports and are not evaluated.[28]

The home page of the National UFO Reporting Center noted (with tongue firmly in cheek) 'Events across the United States and Canada on the evening of Sunday, July 04, 2010.'

"Over the last 48 hours, NUFORC has received almost 100 similar reports of very peculiar events, which have been witnessed across the U.S. and Canada on July 4th, and perhaps on July 3rd, as well. The sightings are a phenomenon for which we have no ready explanation. Many of the reports from both days have been submitted by seemingly serious-minded individuals, many of whom apparently witnessed the events with multiple other witnesses present. The reports are similar, in that the witnesses have described seeing strange red, orange, or yellow “fireballs,” which have been seen either to hover in the night sky, or to streak overhead, sometimes individually, and on some occasions in clusters. In some instances, the objects were observed against a clear, cloudless sky, and in other cases, they were observed below solid or broken overcast."[29]

Indeed, an exceptionally high incidence of lights in the sky had been reported on July 4, 2009, by the Mutual UFO Network.[30]

Cultural effects

UFO reports have changed over time. In the late forties, when aircraft speeds were approaching new levels such as the speed of sound, reports emphasize the speed of the object: Kenneth Arnold emphasized that his objects moved as fast as 1200 mph, a speed unattainable in 1947 but routine today. Later, when high-performance aircraft became mundane, reports more often described levitation and hovering. Does this demonstrate that UFOs are "unreal phantoms that blend in with their times?" [31] Probably, but not necessarily: it only proves that there is a cultural dimension in our assumptions about what constitutes unusual behaviour. A New York Times editorial titled "Out of This World, Out of Our Minds" observed that:

...But these days,... "The 'Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky' no longer resonates with the public the way it did when a tricorder or talking computers seemed miraculous," he said.[32]

Scientific consensus

In 1975, Brinsley le Poer Trench inherited the title Lord Clancarty and took up his seat in the House of Lords. In 1979, he persuaded the House to debate the subject of UFOs, believing that the public should be prepared for imminent contact with extra-terrestrials. The debate covered such issues as whether the inhabitants of other worlds have immortal souls, and allowed members of the peerage opportunities to recount their own sightings. Lord Hewlett made one of the few who represented the scientific consensus in the debate. Explaining that he had been briefed by Sir Bernard Lovell, Fellow of the Royal Society and Nuffield Professor of Radio Astronomy at Manchester University Department of Radio Astronomy and director of the Jodrell Bank radio observatory, he said:

"Of all the thousands of reports of sightings that have been made, whenever it has been possible to make an investigation they have been found to be natural phenomena, or ... pure myth. Over the United Kingdom, Jodrell Bank's radio telescope, the first and still one of the most powerful in the world, has observed thousands of possible subjects for identification as UFOs. but not a single one has proved other than natural phenomena...

He explained that the great majority of reports can be attributed to the entry into the atmosphere of meteorites or more rarely, space debris.

"Just take a tiny country like Holland. One hundred rocks the size of your fist come through the atmosphere and hit that country in one year. Consider Holland in relation to the size of the whole of the world's surface and you must surely realise that we are under constant bombardment, not with UFOs but with meteorites." [33]


  1. Bill Bequette (26 June 1947), Boise Flyer Maintains He Saw 'Em, Pendleton, Oregon East Oregonian
  2. Unidentified Flying Objects - Project Grudge, Technical Report No. 102-AC-49/15-100. Unidentified Flying Objects, United States Air Force Project Grudge, Technical Report No. 102-AC-49/15-100. Frequently Asked Questions, Mutual UFO Network (MUFON)
  3. Robert E. Bartholomew and Erich Goode (May-June 2000), Mass Delusions and Hysterias: Highlights from the Past Millennium, vol. 24.3, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Unidentified Flying Objects - Project BLUE BOOK, National Archives and Records Administration Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "NARA-UFO" defined multiple times with different content
  5. [http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/roswell.html Government Records: Results of a Search for Records Concerning the 1947 Crash Near Roswell, New Mexico (Letter Report, 07/28/95, GAO/NSIAD-95-187)] Government Accounting Office.
  6. The Roswell Incident, New Mexicans for Science and Reason
  7. Mark Rodeghier, The Center For UFO Studies Response To The Air Force’s 1997 Report, The Roswell Report: Case Closed, J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS)
  8. Stanton Friedman - Biography. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  9. "Stanton Friedman" - Google Search. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  10. Dr. Bruce Maccabee Research Website. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  11. . Bruce Maccabee - Google Search. Retrieved on 2011-01-02.
  12. Peter Sturrock et al. (1998), "Physical Evidence from UFO Reports", Journal of Scientific Exploration 12 (2): 179-229
  13. Philip J. Klass (1 September 1998), "Best UFO Cases Fail To Provide Credible Evidence Of ET Visitors, According To Scientific Review Panel Convened By Pro-UFO Physicist", The Skeptics UFO Newsletter 53
  14. Announcements: Frequently Asked Questions, Center for UFO Truth, 28 June 2010
  15. Review of the University of Colorado Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by a Panel of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 1969
  16. Gerald K. Haines, "CIA's Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90: A Die-Hard Issue", Studies in Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency
  17. Visit of Dr. Condon to NPIC, 20 February 1967. Retrieved on 2007-10-29.
  18. Peter Sturrock (1987), "An Analysis of the Condon Report on the Colorado UFO Project", J. Scientific Exploration 1 (1): 75
  19. http://www.cufos.org/HynekClass.html
  20. http://jacquesvallee.net/bookdocs/classif.pdf
  21. http://jacquesvallee.net/bookdocs/classif.pdf
  22. Le Geipan, the French [unidentified aerospace phenomena UAP research and information group], Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES)
  23. GEIPAN UAP investigation unit opens its files, CNES, 26 March 2007
  24. Center for UFO Studies
  25. J.Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies
  26. Jacques F. Vallée (April 2007), A System of Classification and Reliability Indicators for the Analysis of the Behavior of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
  27. Report Index by Shape of Craft, National UFO Report Center
  28. National UFO Reporting Center Web Reports. Retrieved on 2010-08-31.
  29. Events across the United States and Canada on the evening of Sunday, July 04, 2010, National UFO Reporting Center, 6 July 2010
  30. "UFOs spotted over 10 states during July 4th celebrations", Boston Examiner, 5 July 2009
  31. Martin S. Kottmeyer (16 July 2010 ⋅), "Why have UFOs changed speed over the years?", The Philosopher's Magazine
  32. "Out of This World, Out of Our Minds," by John Schwartz, The New York Times, editorial page, July 2, 2010, at [1]
  33. [http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1979/jan/18/unidentified-flying-objects#S5LV0397P0_19790118_HOL_432 ] from the Hansard transcript of House of Lords debate on unidentified flying objects 18th January 1979