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What are UFOs?

UFOs are unidentified flying objects, but no one really knows what they are. Many researchers (called "ufologists") have theories about what UFOs might be, but because no one can examine a UFO in a scientific laboratory, all of these ideas are really only educated guesses. We can offer a definition of UFOs, however, that you may find useful when you study the subject: 

A UFO is the reported sighting of an object or light seen in the sky or on land, whose appearance, trajectory, actions, motions, lights, and colors do not have a logical, conventional, or natural explanation, and which cannot be explained, not only by the original witness, but by scientists or technical experts who try to make a common sense identification after examining the evidence. 

Who sees UFOs?

All kinds of people see UFOs. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, young or old. In fact, many people who report seeing UFOs were not even looking for them when they had their sighting. The chances for seeing a UFO are greater for those people who live in small towns or in the country and are outside late at night. Although most of us at CUFOS have never seen a UFO personally, some colleagues of ours say that their interest in UFOs was sparked by seeing a UFO when they were children or young adults. 

What do UFOs look like? How fast do they move? 
Can I get pictures of them?

UFOs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are only small spots of light that move in strange patterns across the night sky. These are called nocturnal lights (NLs) and are the most commonly reported type of UFO. Nocturnal lights are not really very interesting because the witness can see little detail; without details, ufologists cannot learn anything new. Faraway objects, often disk- or saucer-shaped, seen in the daytime are called daylight disks (DDs). When UFOs approach much nearer to witnesses (within 500 feet), these sightings are called close encounters. There are three types of close encounters, designated as CE-1, CE-2, and CE-3. (Abductions are sometimes referred to as CE-4s.) During close encounters, witnesses report seeing UFOs that are shaped like saucers, boomerangs, spheres, diamonds, cigars, triangles, or other strange shapes. They have bright lights, sometimes white or red, other times multicolored. 

The reported speed of UFOs varies dramatically. UFOs can hover silently for a long time then instantaneously fly off at great speeds--certainly much faster than conventional aircraft. They can move slowly across the sky, or perform unbelievable maneuvers, such as right angle turns, at incredibly high speeds. We do not know what powers UFOs, or why they have such maneuverability. 

There are few unquestionably authentic pictures of UFOs. Many so-called UFO photographs are really natural phenomena (such as strangely shaped clouds) or are light leaks in the camera or flaws that were introduced when the film was developed. Some photos are deliberate hoaxes made by people who want you to believe they have seen UFOs; for any number of reasons, such as fame, money, or to promote a religious or philosophical viewpoint. Some of the best UFO photos were taken in McMinnville, Oregon, in 1950; in Rouen, France, in 1954; off the coast of Brazil in 1958; and in Lubbock, Texas, in 1951. There are also videotapes of UFOs taken in the Hudson Valley region in New York, and in Belgium. These pictures can be seen in many UFO books available in your local library. 

Photos are not sufficient proof for the reality of UFOs because they are easily hoaxed. 

When did people first see UFOs?

Many UFO researchers argue that UFOs have appeared throughout history. There are many myths, legends, and stories that tell of strange things seen in the sky or beings who came from the sky to help humans develop civilization. Because modern scholars cannot directly check the facts of these stories, it is impossible to determine if these are accurate reports of true events. Most ufologists, therefore, concentrate on studying UFO reports beginning in this century. 

In the 1890s, people across North America watched strange dirigible-shaped airships with very bright searchlights flying above their farms and towns. Some people claimed they had met the airship pilots. Researchers disagree about the authenticity of these accounts. Many investigators think the airship reports were hoaxes spread by local "liars' clubs" or sensational stories written by creative journalists hoping to sell papers. A few ufologists, however, are convinced these airship sightings represent the first reliable UFO reports in history. 

During World War II pilots saw strange, glowing balls of light flying beside their airplanes. They called these lights "foo fighters," a term based on an expression ("where there's foo, there's fire") from Smokey Stover, a popular comic strip at the time. At first the Allied command believed the foo-fighters were secret German weapons or surveillance devices. Only after the war did they discover that German pilots had also seen the glowing lights, which were thought to be American or British secret devices! 

During the summer and fall of 1946, a number of unusual aerial objects were sighted over Sweden and Norway. They were given the name of "ghost rockets" and it was believed that they were secret Russian weapons developed from the German wartime rocket program. The Swedish defense ministry stated that 80% of the 1,000 ghost rockets could be explained by natural phenomena, but about 200 cases could not be explained as either a natural phenomenon, Swedish or Russian aircraft, or misperceptions. 

Although the airship and foo-fighter reports are more detailed and credible than ancient stories of strange "prodigies" seen in the sky, many ufologists question whether these sightings can be accepted as true UFO reports. As a result, many researchers say the modern UFO era started on June 24, 1947, with the sighting by businessman and pilot Kenneth Arnold. While flying his small plane along the Cascade Mountains in Washington state, Arnold saw nine crescent-shaped objects flying along the contours of the mountains. Although he saw them for only a three and a half minutes, Arnold knew they were not regular airplanes. He radioed in his report, and when he landed at the airport, reporters were waiting to ask questions. He described the motions of the objects as "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water." This is where the term "flying saucer" came from. 

How can you recognize a UFO hoax?

Although tens of thousands of UFOs have been reported over the past forty years, less than 1% have been shown to be hoaxes. For the most part, competent UFO investigators have been able to recognize hoaxes almost immediately. The most common type of UFO hoax is a prank balloon, which involves tying a flare or candle to a helium-filled balloon. On rare occasions elaborate hoaxes have been perpetrated, necessitating a more extensive investigation. 

To eliminate the possibility that a UFO report is a hoax, one must examine the credibility of the witnesses, the details of the report, and any physical evidence, especially photographs. The reliability and validity of these factors must be ascertained before a researcher can have confidence in the data. A witness's reliability can be checked by interviewing neighbors, friends, relatives, co-workers, and other associates. In particular, an investigator is interested in determining whether the individual has a reputation as a sincere, responsible person, or as a practical joker, prankster, or hoaxer. 

The researcher also examines the UFO report to determine if there are any unbelievable claims or glaring inconsistencies. For example, are there elements in the report similar to those found in science fiction or so unusual that they do not appear in other UFO accounts? Does the witness claim to have seen the UFO many times, although other witnesses cannot be found? Does the witness claim that important evidence is mysteriously missing or taken by unknown "government agents"? While such facts may not prove a hoax, they can cast doubt on the report and must be considered during the investigation. 

Finally, the UFO investigator must examine the evidence to check if it has been altered, falsified, or hoaxed. If the evidence looks faked, or if it can be explained by more prosaic methods, doubt is cast on its validity. Often an experienced ufologist can determine that a UFO photograph is a hoax upon first viewing. Clues, such as a noticeable difference between the sharpness of the UFO image and that of foreground and background objects, can indicate a hoax. Computerized photo enhancement can also be used to prove a hoax. Enhancement techniques can reveal supporting strings or wires and can provide information about an object's actual shape, material, and density. 

Remember, in any investigation you must critically and thoroughly examine the evidence. The more evidence that is proven to be unreliable, the greater the doubt to be cast on the validity of the UFO event. A rule-of-thumb to consider when investigating any UFO case is if something appears too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true." (This is also true in life, not just ufology.) So--investigator beware, and never let your critical thinking skills down. 

What do aliens look like, and where do they come from?

Because we do not know for certain that UFOs are spacecraft, we cannot be sure aliens are visiting the earth from other planets. Many ufologists argue that there is enough evidence to show that UFOs are really spacecraft operated by intelligent aliens. Among the reports of encounters with aliens (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or CE-3s), there is a wide variety of descriptions. Some witnesses describe beings who look very human. In fact, they say these aliens could easily blend into the crowd on any street in any city of the world. These types of aliens are sometimes called Nordics, because they most closely resemble the people living in northern Europe. Others report seeing short, gray beings with large, almond-shaped eyes, and large, bulbous heads. These aliens have been called Grays. The Grays are sometimes divided into subgroups depending on other physical characteristics, such
as height. On some occasions, witnesses report seeing creatures that resemble robots or androids. Only in the most unusual cases do people claim to have seen monstrous creatures so often depicted in popular movies about beings from outer space. (The beings in the illustration are those described in the book Encounter at Buff Ledge, by Walter Webb.) 

 There are many theories about where aliens come from, but there is no absolute proof. Some speculate that aliens come from other planets, while others suggest different dimensions. The idea that UFO beings are time travelers from our own future is also a possibility. The most intriguing clue about the origin of the aliens comes from the UFO abduction account of Betty and Barney Hill. During their abduction aboard a UFO in 1961, Betty Hill was shown a three-dimensional map of a cluster of stars. She later drew the star map while under hypnosis. Years later, an Ohio school teacher, Marjorie Fish, made many models of known groups of stars in our section of the galaxy and compared them to the Hill star map. Fish eventually found a match and concluded that the two major stars shown were the binary stars, Zeta Reticulum I and II. It is interesting to note that these stars are similar to the sun and could very well have earthlike planets in orbit around them--planets that might support intelligent life. 

Are people ever hurt by UFOs?

People occasionally report feeling pain or receiving an injury during a UFO encounter or abduction. Physical effects include eye irritation, sunburn, skin cuts, and sickness. After the experience, witnesses may have nightmares and feel anxious, and they may undergo personality changes or changes in their beliefs about important life issues. Witnesses, especially abductees, claim later UFO encounters and other experiences with the paranormal, such as poltergeist activity or the development of psychic powers. 

One of the most famous UFO sightings resulting in injuries to witnesses involved two women, Betty Cash and Vicki Landrum, and Mrs. Landrum's grandson, Colby, as they drove along a deserted Texas road during December 1980. In front of them, they saw a huge, brilliant, diamond-shaped object with flames shooting out from the bottom. Cash stopped the car and got out to have a better look at the UFO. The object radiated intense heat that softened the dashboard of her car. Terrified, Cash returned to the car and with the others, watched the UFO move away. As it did so, a squadron of helicopters appeared and surrounded the UFO. The witnesses followed the object and the helicopters until they disappeared in the distance. By the time the three reached home, all were feeling ill. Within a few hours, they developed sunburnlike blisters, nausea, and diarrhea. Betty Cash's symptoms were the most severe, and she eventually sought medical treatment and was hospitalized as a burn victim. Her doctor concluded Cash was exhibiting symptoms of radiation sickness. The witnesses later sued the United States government, claiming it was responsible for their injuries. (They had identified the helicopters as Chinook twin-rotor helicopters used by the U.S. Army.) Their lawsuit was unsuccessful because they could never prove the UFO or the helicopters were devices owned and operated by the American government. 

Does the United States government study UFOs?

At present, the United States government does not officially investigate UFO sightings, although there is some evidence suggesting that various governmental agencies continue to maintain a secret interest in the subject. During the past forty years, however, there have been several projects and investigative panels that examined the UFO evidence, at least superficially. Because UFOs are an aerial phenomenon, between 1947 and 1969 the U.S. Air Force was charged with organizing several projects to investigate UFO reports. The most famous was Project Blue Book, which existed from 1952 to 1969. Although there were many UFO reports during those years, including numerous sightings by military and civilian pilots, and other technical personnel, the Air Force maintained that UFOs were not real. The military considered UFO reports seriously only because it believed that they could be used to confuse and overwhelm our intelligence and communication operations, thereby making America vulnerable to surprise attack by some foreign power. 

Some military experts also admitted the possibility that the Soviet Union, with the help of captured German scientists, was developing technology far superior to any the United States possessed. Therefore, the Air Force concluded that UFO reports should be investigated until these possibilities were proven unlikely. Through its investigations, the Air Force was able to explain most sightings as natural phenomena or misidentified aircraft. However, there were still hundreds of UFO reports that it could not so easily explain. 

In 1966 there was a wave of spectacular UFO sightings across America that received widespread press coverage. Political leaders, especially congressional representatives, were pressured by their constituents who demanded explanations for their sightings. A congressional committee conducted hearings on the UFO sightings, and pressure was placed on the Air Force to resolve the issue once and for all. 

In response, the Air Force contracted with the University of Colorado to conduct what it hoped would be the definitive study of the UFO phenomenon--a study that would finally settle the UFO question to everyone's satisfaction. The project was headed by Professor Edward U. Condon, a physicist, who had expressed negative views about life on other planets and the existence of UFOs. Several members of the Colorado study (which became known as the "Condon Committee") charged Condon with failing to act in an open-minded and impartial manner, thereby biasing the study. Despite becoming mired in controversy, after several committee members were fired and the Congress organizing its own symposium on UFOs, the Condon Committee continued its investigation and eventually released a final report. The study's conclusion, written by Condon, stated that the 21-year study of UFOs had not added anything to scientific knowledge and that further study could not be justified. Critics charged the report's conclusion did not follow from the study's own data, and the Condon investigation was a sham from the beginning. Despite the controversy surrounding the Condon Report, the Air Force used its conclusions as a ustification for disbanding Project Blue Book in December 1969 and severing its connection with the UFO subject. 

Despite this disbanding, many ufologists believe the government still maintains extensive files on UFOs and continues to investigate sightings in secret. Their belief is reinforced by the fact that U.S. intelligence agencies have already released documents showing that they have been collecting UFO information that is still classified Top Secret. The government does not allow public access to these documents, despite numerous attempts by UFO researchers to see them through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which is supposed to give American citizens the right to view any government document that does not threaten national security. 

In response to the government's reluctance to release UFO documents, the UFO group Ground Saucer Watch began legal action to gain the release of documents on UFO sightings over military bases in the 1970s. After Ground Saucer Watch ran into financial difficulties, Citizens Against UFO Secrecy (CAUS) pursued the case. Though CAUS argued that the release of official UFO information would not threaten national security, U.S. intelligence agencies claimed their operations would be jeopardized by their release. Even when CAUS emphasized that it only wanted the UFO information and not anything related to U.S. intelligence, the government adamantly refused to release the information. Eventually, federal judge Gerhardt Gesell ruled in the government's favor, citing national security reasons. CAUS protested the decision, claiming the hearing was unfair. In particular, the group pointed out that the judge was not allowed to review the UFO material despite having top security clearance. In fact, Judge Gesell was only given a summary explaining why the government could not release the documents, which served as the basis for his decision. Although CAUS failed to win the case, it continues to work for the release of government UFO documents through the Freedom of Information Act. 

What is an IFO?

An IFO is an Identified Flying Object. In essence, it is a natural or man-made object that people reported as a UFO. About 90%-95% of all UFO reports prove to be IFOs, after an examination of the evidence by a trained investigator. People report natural or conventional objects as UFOs because they do not recognize them as such, due to unusual environmental conditions, ignorance, or the rarity of a natural event. For example, people have reported the planet Venus as a UFO, unaware of how bright the planet can appear at certain times of the year. Stars near the horizon are sometimes reported as UFOs because atmospheric turbulence and thermals (columns of warm air) cause them to twinkle rapidly in red and blue colors. Stars may also appear to dart back and forth because of autokinesis. This is a psychological phenomenon in which a person's eye movements create the illusion that a bright object seen in the dark without a frame of reference is moving. 

In order to distinguish between UFOs and IFOs, an investigator must find as much information about a sighting as possible, without leading witnesses into giving false details. It is also important that UFO reports are investigated soon after the sighting, so all relevant information about possible IFO explanations can be considered. 

It is significant that IFO reports, along with genuine UFO reports, have decreased over the past decade. People almost never report Venus or advertising planes, for example, as UFOs. The reasons for the decline in IFO reports are worthy of serious study and could shed light on the nature of the UFO phenomenon. IfUFOs are misperceptions of natural or man-made objects, as many skeptics claim, why don't people misperceive
these objects as UFOs today? If UFO sightings are the result of psychological problems, can we assume people report fewer UFOs today because they are psychologically healthier? If UFOs are a rare or unknown natural phenomenon, what has happened in the earth's environment to cause the decline in sightings? The answers to these and other questions may provide missing pieces to the UFO puzzle. 

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