Unidentified Flying Objects, more commonly known as UFOs, are a fascinating subject for study as they have amassed large amounts of controversy and skepticism over the years. The most controversial aspect of this subject can arguably be expressed as the belief by some that they are extraterrestrial in origin. By definition, a real UFO cannot be identified, and thus the origin of the object must then be considered. If the origin is not extraterrestrial, what other possibilities remain? Should Top-Secret military test aircraft could be considered? Perhaps the millions of people who claim to see UFOs are simply misinterpreting explainable phenomena. If this is the case, then what is to be said for the thousands of cases that remain unexplained even after rigorous evaluation? What cannot be denied throughout the study of UFOs is that people are definitely experiencing something, and a percentage of those experiences continue to be unexplained.
The case for the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs might begin with some numbers which discuss the possibility of life on other planets. In 1961, Dr. Frank Drake came up with the Drake equation. This equation took into account all the aspects of our galaxy and came up with a number of worlds capable of producing intelligent life capable of technological communication. The number derived from the Drake equation was 10,000 in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, and there are billions of more galaxies beyond ours. The percentage of probability that there is intelligent life somewhere else mathematically exceeds 100%. If we can conceive that there are other forms of life out there, can we then conceive the possibility of that life being able to get here?
One of the most valid arguments skeptics hold against the possibility of existing alien aircraft says that it would simply be impossible for extraterrestrial life to get here. Present day technology does not hold any current knowledge of a working craft that would be able to travel the distances required to make the trip; at least not in any reasonable amount of time. Physics does, however, yield theoretical possibilities of long distance space travel.
Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our sun and is a distance of 4.2 light years away. At our current technology and at the speed with which we are able to reach the moon, it would take over 100,000 years to get there. Einstein’s theory of Relativity also gives us a universal speed limit, in which we cannot exceed the speed of light. Even if we could near this speed, it would still take over four years to get near this star. One alternative notion of space travel, however, utilizes the theoretical bending of the fabric of space itself. Rather then the conventional belief that the shortest distance between two points has to be a straight line, this type of theory allows us to bend that line as if folding a string to bring the two endpoints together. The equations of general relativity allow for the theoretical possibility to bend the fabric of space and take a shortcut, otherwise known as a wormhole. Although certainly not conventional, the theory is still a mathematical possibility. There have been many scientists throughout history that have publicly claimed their opinions regarding the impossibility of technologies that we now hold today. Who knows what we might be capable of in 100, 500, or even 1000 years.
Another consideration to be made in the investigation of UFO sightings is the credibility of the source from which they come. UFO investigation in the past has often been greeted with much criticism. Many people claiming to have had experiences which they could not explain have been hesitant to come forward. During an investigation, consideration is taken as to the credibility of the witness, whether at the time of the sighting, Air Force or commercial plane activity in the vicinity, and so on. Once the identifiable activity is insufficient to explain a sighting, then the event, and/ or the object witnessed, can be categorized as unidentifiable.
The majority of reported UFO sightings began after an event that took place on June 24th of 1947. On this date, an American businessman by the name of Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine separate unidentified flying objects while flying in his private plane near Mount Rainier, Washington. He described the objects as having lights of various colors and moving very fast, much faster than any flight that we were capable of at the time. This report received a large amount of public and media attention and began a trend of many subsequent UFO sightings, including the famous Roswell incident in July of 1947.
The Roswell, New Mexico incident also garnered much hype. The incident began when a rancher named Mac Brazel reportedly found strange material strewn about his property which he could not identify. He brought some of the material homes and reported his find to the authorities. Two commanding officers from the Roswell Army Air Field were sent to investigate; Major Jesse Marcel and Captain Sheridan Cavitt. At first, a press release was issued by Army Command at Roswell stating that a “flying disc” had been recovered. (qt. in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ufo.) Later this statement would be retracted, and the explanation of top-secret weather balloon material would be offered to the public as an explanation for the debris. There was even a picture taken of Major Jesse Marcel holding the supposed weather balloon debris. Most accepted the army’s explanation of a weather balloon at this time, and the hype surrounding the incident largely subsided.
It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that the Roswell incident became an interesting subject to the public once again. Then retired Major Jesse Marcel stated publicly that the weather balloon story was an elaborate government cover-up, and that the material which he is seen within the above-mentioned photograph was not the same as what was recovered from Mac Brazel’s property. He stated that the army had indeed recovered material that was likely from a flying disc and extraterrestrial in origin. Although often debunked by reports released by the government, the story still holds the attention of many. There have been hundreds of first and second-hand witnesses that have testified to seeing things that support Mr. Marcel’s retracted account of events and an elaborate cover-up orchestrated by the United States government.
Some have hypothesized as to why so many UFO sightings seem to have sprung up at this time, seemingly beginning with the report of Kenneth Arnold. UFO investigators may have two possible answers to this question. First of all, one could argue that the evidence for UFOs stems back much further than 1947. There have been reports of strange sightings in newspapers as far back as at least the 19th century, long before Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers had their first flight in 1903. Some of the reports from this time have witnesses describing objects in the sky as “disc-shaped” or “torpedo-shaped” and “flying at wonderful speed”, long before the terms flying saucer or UFO had ever been coined. (qt. in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ufo)
An argument can also be made that people have been seeing strange things in the sky long before even these reports occurred. Older reports are much more difficult to assess then new ones since there is no way to prove or disprove their accuracy. Some reports have been interpreted as being natural phenomena of which we are now aware, such as comets, meteors, or atmospheric phenomena. Others, however, are not so easily explained away. One example may be the April 14th, 1561 incident in which there were reportedly many objects that filled the sky of Nuremberg, Germany that does not fit conventional descriptions of any known astronomical or atmospheric anomalies. There have even been some ancient cave paintings that have been interpreted by some as showing people observing what resembles discs in the sky above.
The second argument that may be made to explain the timing of the multitude of UFO sightings might have to do with what humans were experimenting with at the time. By 1945 the United States had developed operational nuclear weapons, which they then used to attack the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima during World War II in 1945. It was a revolutionary and frightening move in the direction of advanced warfare. If indeed an extraterrestrial society with intelligence surpassing ours were aware of our existence, it might then be reasonable to assume that the interest in our species would have heightened during this time.
Not all reported UFOs remain unidentified. In fact, 95% of all reported UFO sightings can be explained by known phenomena. The large majority of these are often uncovered as being hoaxes, misidentified aircraft, or naturally occurring phenomena. Despite these possible explanations, a large number of Americans believe that UFOs exist. According to one poll taken by Industrial Research and Development Magazine in 1979, only 8% of the 100,000 polled said that UFOs definitely did not exist. 27% said they definitely did, 34% said probably, 12% were undecided and 20% said probably not. Of those that considered the possibility of UFOs, 44% believed that their origin was outer space. (Friedman, 209)
Although polls can be notoriously inaccurate, it does bring into question the trust of the government by the general public. Of most known cases of UFO sightings, government cover-up is often alleged. What conclusions can be made when the government makes allegations to debunk the witness’ claims? If the people having sightings are deemed reliable after investigations, then it is up to us whether or not they are to be believed. If the decision is made that the witness is believable, then it must be concluded that the government’s explanation is not. Indeed, it has become notorious in UFO lore that the government explanation of notorious incidents does not often match the descriptions given by eye-witnesses.
One such incident, which holds much validity in the category of reliable sources and physical evidence, occurred in December of 1980 in the Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, England. The incident occurred in the vicinity of two military bases; Royal Air Force Woodbridge and Royal Air Force Bentwaters. Both were being operated by the United States Air Force at the time. The first sighting occurred in the early hours of the morning on December 26th by two USAF patrolmen. They reportedly described flashing lights that appeared through the trees. They were joined by others from the base, including a technical sergeant specializing in aircraft accidents. Upon their return, they reported an extremely close encounter with a UFO and statements were taken.
The next night, strange lights were again seen. Another group of military officials were enlisted to investigate. Included in the group was then Deputy Base Commander Colonel Lieutenant Halt who brought with him a Dictaphone to record their findings. In the area where the UFO had been seen the previous night, the group observed high levels of radiation by a Geiger counter. The men also observed damage to trees and strange indentations on the ground where the UFO was supposed to have landed. Samples of some of the damaged organic material were taken, as well as photographs and measurements of the indentations found at the sight. The group then began to witness anomalous lights, changing colors and weaving through the trees and behaving in a way they were unable to explain. The lights reportedly seemed to be under some kind of intelligent control, and at one point moved high into the sky and shot beams of light back down into the forest and at the base.
After the incident had occurred, Deputy Commander Halt made a report of what they had witnessed. It was then decided by higher-ranking government officials, as stated by Colonel Halt, that no public statement regarding the sightings would be made. Later, it was reported by some of the witnesses that they were forced to sign a paper stating that the lights that were observed that night were nothing more than a lighthouse beacon off in the distance. This was the official explanation offered by the government for this particular incident. In rebuttal to this explanation, Admiral Lord Hill Norton, former Chief of Defense Staff for the UK, stated “One explanation is that it actually happened as Colonel Halt purported; the other explanation is that it didn’t, and in that case one is bound to assume that Colonel Halt and all his men were hallucinating”. (Out of the Blue, documentary interview)
The government has since made the statement that the incident at Rendlesham is of no defense interest. This also reaffirms that the report made by Colonel Halt and the audio recording of the incident were all the result of nothing more than a mistaken sighting of the lighthouse beacon, according to the government. To this, Admiral Lord Hill Norton again refutes, by saying “That the Colonel of an Air Force base in Suffolk and his merry men are hallucinating, when there are nuclear-armed aircraft on base, must be of defense interest. If indeed what he says took place did, and why on earth should he make it up, then surely the entry of a vehicle from outer space, certainly not man-made, to a defense base in this country, also cannot fail to be of defense interest.” (Out of the Blue, documentary interview)
One other case in which the official government explanation does not seem to match witness descriptions is the mysterious Phoenix lights incident of 1997. A number of pictures and videos were taken of mysterious lights above the city. Many witnesses described distinctly seeing a very large triangular craft, with lights on the bottom traveling slowly overhead. Some reported that they were very close to the craft and described it in great detail. By some accounts, the craft was reportedly almost a mile wide. The official explanation given in this case was that the lights reported to be a UFO were actually military test flares. Governor Symington promised the people a full investigation into the matter. When a press conference was called to address the issue, the Governor introduced the “guilty party” and brought in a man dressed in a comical alien suit. (Out of the Blue, 6/19/97 press conference) Many of the people of Arizona reported feeling like this only meant that their concerns had never been taken seriously and that they never would be.
In the myriad of UFO sightings, each case is looked at individually from an investigator’s point of view. Each individual witness’ story is scrutinized and compared with subsequent statements to search for inconsistencies or validating points. Of the millions of Americans that claim to have seen UFOs, most express frustration at the government’s refusal to take their claims seriously. Most also speak of witnessing amazing technology of which we humans are not yet capable. Is this not a subject of which the government should be concerned? Is it also possible, given the many eye-witness accounts, that the government does, in fact, have knowledge of extraterrestrial visitation and has kept it classified all these years?
The repercussions on our society of a discovery of this magnitude should not be taken lightly. To prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that intelligent alien life forms exist would perhaps be the most important discovery in all of human history. It is for this reason that investigation into UFO phenomena should continue, and with vigor. To completely deny the possibility of the existence of UFOs is to deny the claims of millions and millions of people, and implies mistrust of what our race has become. If just one of these reports were factual, the implications would be astounding. It is so important, especially in our present state, to seek that trust in our fellow human. It may just be the key to opening doors that could yield a possibility beyond all imagination.
Friedman, Stanton T. Flying Saucers and Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFOs. New Jersey: Career Press, 2008
“Unidentified Flying Objects.” Wikipedia.org 2008 Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ufo
“Out of the Blue” UFO Investigation Documentary, Narrated by Peter Coyote. SciFi Channel. June 2008
Matthews, Rupert Alien Encounters New Jersey, Chartwell Books Inc. 2008
Friedman, Stanton T. Flying Saucers and Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFOs. New Jersey: Career Press, 2008
http://www.merriam-webster.com/ Online Dictionary
“Out of the Blue” – Documentary on UFO Investigation SciFi channel June 2008