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Encyclopedia > UFOs
UFO redirects here. For other uses, see UFO (disambiguation).
A UFO -- posed or genuine?

A UFO or unidentified flying object in the original, literal sense is any airborne object whose nature is not readily known. Nowadays, the term is generally used to mean those cases that are believed by some to be the spaceships of extraterrestrial aliens.

The modern interest in UFOs started with a claimed sighting by Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947, near Mount Rainier, Washington. Though the UFOs he saw were not saucer-shaped, he described their movements as being similar to that of a saucer skipping over water, hence the origin of the term flying saucer. Arnold's claims received significant mainstream attention.

In December 1980 a UFO sighting known as the Rendlesham Incident near Ipswich, UK helped to increase the level of interest as a signed letter from the USAF (known as the Halt Memo) confirmed that something had been seen.

Since the mid-twentieth century, UFOs have been the subject of thousands of books, motion pictures, songs, documentaries and other media, and of numerous hoaxes. UFO topics were amongst the most popular on early computer Bulletin board systems, and millions of people have some degree of interest in the subject.

There have been studies of UFOs and UFO enthusiast subcultures from a folklore or anthropological perspective.

A 1996 Gallup poll shows that 71% of the United States' population believes that the government is covering up some information about UFOs.


Typical reported characteristics of UFOs

  • Saucer, toy-top, or disk-shaped craft without visible or audible propulsion. (day and night)
  • Rapidly-moving lights or lights with apparent ability to rapidly change direction — the earliest mention of their motion was given as "saucers skipping on water"
  • Large triangular craft or triangular light pattern
  • Cigar-shaped craft with lighted windows (Meteor trails sometimes appear this way)

The number of different shapes, sizes and configurations of claimed UFOs has been large, with detailed descriptions of chevrons, equilateral triangles, spheres, domes, diamonds, shapeless black masses, eggs and cylinders being prevalent. Skeptics argue this diversity of shapes, size and configurations points to a socio-psychological explanation. Professed experiencers and believers reply that the volume of highly detailed sightings reported by witnesses from commercial airline pilots to United States presidents possesses strong consistency and cannot be explained away as mundane phenomena (weather balloons, aircraft, Venus), arguing for the non-conventional interpretation.

One writer contends that UFO mass sightings--sometimes called "flaps"--are "a hard core of genuinely unusual sightings ... surrounded by a great deal more misidentification, wishful thinking and general flakiness." [1] (http://www.strangemag.com/invadersfromelsewhere1.html)

In most cases the sightings of transits of bodies in front of the moon or the sun, which were in the 19th century hypothesized as the appearance of the planet Vulcan are not described as UFOs, although in none of these cases the body, which caused the sightings has been determined.

Origins of the term "flying saucer"

Another UFO from Brazil.
Another UFO from Brazil.

The nine objects Kenneth Arnold said he saw were not saucer-shaped. Drawings showed something rather boomerang or crescent shaped: more resembling a flying wing style aircraft. However, he described their movement as a kind of skipping, like a saucer skimmed over water. Press reports picked up the "like a saucer" phrase, and reported it as a "flying saucer".

George Adamski contributed to the popularity of this term with his books, such as Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953).

"Flying Saucer" was the preferred term for most unidentified aerial objects through the early 1960's, before gradualy being overtaken in popularity by "UFO".


Ufology is the study of UFO reports and evidence.

The general opinion of the mainstream scientific community is that all UFO sightings are misidentification of natural phenomena or hoaxes. Some feel that the subject is a waste of time, due to a number of factors, such as unreliable witnesses.

It has been suggested, however, that rather few academics have actually researched the topic themselves or become personally familiar with the literature. Some professionals and academics have argued that this constitutes unacceptable bias, and that while current evidence may be lacking, new evidence should be evaluated objectively as it arises. Some in the scientific community feel there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation efforts, comparing it to the period in the history of meteorite research when there was only witness testimony available.

Others, including both amateur and professional researchers, continue research and consider the extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs a possibility.

UFOs have been subject to many studies over the years, with a wide range of scope and scientific rigor. Perhaps the best known study was Project Blue Book, conducted by the United States Air Force.

There took also place experiments of registering UFOs by automaically working monitoring stations. One of this stations was (and is perhaps) still at Shirley Bay, Canada. This station went until the first registration of a suspiciuos signal toward military secrecy. The only absolutely non-military station, which can register "UFO"s is the Hessdalen AMS in Norway.

Evidence and explanations

Some feel that UFO study is still a worthwhile topic because of open questions, especially due to occasional reports of UFOs from professional or military astronomers or pilots - individuals whose careers, and often their very lives, rely on their ability to recognize and assess aircraft, weather conditions, distances, and other factors vital to flight. Some Ufologists argue such cases are more difficult to dismiss as misidentification of mundane objects. Gordon Cooper and Edgar Mitchell are two NASA astronauts who have expressed an interest in UFOs, and both have decried what they consider the biased attitudes of some professionals; Cooper claims to have seen UFOs in the early 1950s.

Although thousands of UFO sightings have been widely publicised in news columns over the years, the fact that many have subsequently been explained--or at least that proposed explanations have been offered by qualified persons--as natural phenomena or hoaxes has largely been ignored by the media.

There are UFO websites listing claimed sightings, but far fewer listing proposed or confirmed explanations which have been presented. The fact that, after investigation, most UFOs actually become IFOs -- Identified Flying Objects -- seems less newsworthy. While a possible alien visitor is sensational, a mundane explanation is a non-event.

However, even if the overwhelming majority of all UFOs become IFOs, one well documented case such as the Chile 1997 radar/visual case confirmed by the government in Santiago [2] (http://ufologie.net/htm/offichili.htm) is sufficient to negate the 'null hypothesis'. Similarly, Physicist Michio Kaku states that although "perhaps 99% of all sightings of UFO's can be dismissed as being caused by familiar phenomena" that "What is disturbing, to a physicist however, is the remaining 1% of these sightings, which are multiple sightings made by multiple methods of observations. Some of the most intriguing sightings have been made by seasoned pilots and passengers aboard air line flights which have also been tracked by radar and have been videotaped. Sightings like this are harder to dismiss."[3] (http://www.mkaku.org/articles/physics_of_space_travel.shtml)

On the other hand, many still inexplicable cases are either ignored by the media or, if a purported sceptic offers an explanation that fails to fit the facts (e.g. Zig-zagging formation of lights and confirmed by radar are blamed on misinterpreting 'Jupiter'), it is often taken up by the press and the case is closed, as far as the media is concerned.

It is sometimes said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", but many pro-research groups only claim that the topic deserves further investigation, not that UFOs are necessarily alien craft. The threshold of evidence for further investigation is lower than that for a conclusion about the nature of UFOs.

Skeptics say there are indeed genuine sightings of strange flying objects which are usually logically explained, that no physical evidence of an alien spacecraft has ever been produced, and that many claims have been disproven as fraudulent. They also note that the burden of proof lies with whomever makes a claim. On the other hand, however, Marcello Truzzi, (sociology professor at Eastern Michigan University) contends that some self-described "skeptics" are misusing the term (or even misrepresenting their opinions): "Since 'skepticism' properly refers to doubt rather than denial - nonbelief rather than belief - critics who take the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves 'skeptics' are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false advantage by usurping that label."[4] (http://www.anomalist.com/commentaries/pseudo.html)

Supporters and conspiracy theorists argue that the subject is prejudiced by ridicule and stigma, (Kaku agrees with this; in the article cited above he writes that "There is no funding for anyone seriously looking at unidentified objects in space, and one's reputation may suffer if one pursues an interest in these unorthodox matters"), and that an extremely large body of compelling evidence not as yet disproved or effectively countered also exists, including photography, motion video, and multiple independently corroborated sworn affidavits.

Evidence and suppression

Some also contend regarding physical evidence that it exists abundantly but is swiftly and sometimes clumsily suppressed by governmental entities, not always uniform, with a strong agenda to insulate a population they regard as psychologically not yet prepared for the social, theological, and security implications of such a reality. See the Brookings Report.


The study of UFO claims over the years has led to valuable discoveries about atmospheric phenomena and psychology. In psychology, the study of UFO sightings has revealed information on misinterpretation, perceptual illusions, hallucination and fantasy-prone personality which may explain why some people are willing to believe hoaxers such as George Adamski. Many have questioned the reliability of hypnosis in UFO abduction cases.

Paranormal crossover

The field of UFOs does not necessarily overlap the paranormal, although in practice it often does. The UFO phenomenon need not have a paranormal explanation, though some who believe in UFOs also have a fascination with the paranormal.


UFOs are sometimes claimed to be part of an elaborate UFO conspiracy theory in which the government is said to be intentionally covering up the existence of aliens, or sometimes collaborating with them. There are many versions of this story; some are exclusive, while others overlap with various other conspricay theories.

There is also the speculation that UFO phenomena are tests of experimental aircraft or advanced weapons. In this case UFOs are viewed as failures to retain secrecy, or deliberate attempts at disinformation: to deride the phenomena so that it can be pursued unhindered. This theory may or may not feed back into the previous one, where current advanced military technology is considered to be adapted alien technology. See also: skunk works and Area 51. This also feeds into the opinion that all or most human technology and culture is based on extraterrestrial contact. See also ancient astronauts

Mystical and religious aspects of UFOs

Much mysticism has arisen around UFOs. Several religions have UFOs as a component of their mythology:

  • Unarius Academy of Science: Founded in 1954 by Ernest Norman and Ruth Marian.
  • Aetherians: A group founded by a British mystic who claimed to communicate with the Cosmic Master Aetherius
  • Order of the Solar Temple: In order to move to somewhere near the star Sirius many believers committed suicide in Europe and Canada in the 90's
  • Heaven's Gate: Believers committed suicide in Caifornia in 1997, believing they would be carried off in Comet Hale-Bopp.
  • Raelians, who claimed they would clone their leader so he could live forever.
  • Scientology: The higher-level beliefs of Scientology include the story of Xenu, a galactic ruler, who brought billions of people to Earth and killed them. A 1952 Scientology tape claims that a steady flow of flying saucers is still dropping off more entheta (malevolent) beings.

Some have common beliefs around UFOs mixed with Christian elements:

  • Heaven: Lights that come from the sky.
  • Faith: you have no evidence what UFOs are. You can only see by yourself or believe others.
  • Saviour: Superior beings coming out of those lights.
  • Apocalypse and redemption: Superior beings coming from the heavens to at the same time destroy civilization as we know and save those few who accept them by carrying those believers in their spacecraft.
  • Voices: Many claim to hear voices that might be from spirits, angels or aliens from a distant galaxy.

An example of this overlap is the miracle at Fatima which occurred in Portugal in 1917. This involved over 70,000 witnesses observing strange aerial phenomena which might well be considered as UFOs today.

Erich von Däniken goes the other way round and states that many old religions were influenced by UFOs. He claims to have found evidence in old Aztec, Inca and ancient Egypt temples that phenomena identified as signs of Gods were the same as actual unidentified flying objects. In his book Were The Gods Astronauts, von Däniken goes farther and states that those objects were in fact alien visitors who landed on Earth a thousand years ago and influenced deeply the birth of civilizations.

Terence McKenna, in contrast, believed that UFOs are manifestations of the human oversoul, or collective spirit. He thought they appeared to individuals and groups in order to exert psychological influence over the course of history. He conjectured that in the year 2012 there might be a global UFO 'visitation'; a great manifestation that would convince humanity to adopt a UFO religion with precepts of universal love and ecologically-sound culture.

Currently studied by the Stanton Philosophical Society

Jacques Vallee, a French UFO researcher, has noted an almost exact parallel between UFO and "Alien" visitations and stories from folklore of Fairies and similar creatures. This was documented in his 1969 book "Passport to Magonia" and explored further in his later works. The significance of these parallels is disputed between mainstream scientists, who contend that they show both to be fanciful, and between Vallee and others who feel that some underlying, poorly understood, phenomena is actually interacting with humans to cause both kinds of sightings. Incidently, Vallee was the inspiration for the French scientist depicted by Steven Spielberg in his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, also felt that UFOs had a primarily spiritual and psychological basis. In his 1959 book "FLYING SAUCERS: A Modern Myth of Things Seen In The Sky", he pointed out that the round shape of most saucers corresponds to a mandala, a type of archetypal shape seen in religious images. He felt that saucers reflected a projection of the internal desires of viewers to see them. However, he did not outrightly label them a delusion or hallucination; it was more in the nature of a shared spiritual experience.

Notable UFO-related sightings and events

see List of major UFO sightings

Researchers and personalities

  • Jacques F. Vallee
  • Albert K. Bender
  • Philip J. Klass
  • Bruce S. Maccabee

See also

External links

  Results from FactBites:
UFO Maps (824 words)
UFO data from National UFO Reporting Center and UFO Evidence, UFO icon by Tom7, 24h project by Poly9.
Another argument is that the true underlying shape may, in some cases, be concealed or distorted by the ionization of air around the objects, believed by some researcher advocates, such as NASA engineers Paul Hill and James McCampbell, to be a characteristic of the propulsion system.
Vallee points out that the theory regarding how the general public generates and propagates UFO reports as a way of releasing psychological tensions, is denied by the absence of correlation between notable periods of interest in science fiction and major peaks of UFO activity.
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