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What are the most interesting cases for ufologists to study?

The most important cases for learning more about UFOs are those with multiple witnesses and reports in which the UFO leaves some sort of physical trace or effect. Physical trace cases involving ground markings or electromagnetic effects are called Close Encounters of the Second Kind (CE-2s). When a UFO is observed visually and picked up by radar simultaneously, this case is cataloged as a Radar-Visual (R-V) sighting. 

One of the most famous CE-2 cases occurred in 1971, at Delphos, Kansas, where a teenage boy, Ronald Johnson, saw an illuminated object hover near the ground. After the object flew off, a glowing ring appeared on the spot. Analysis showed that the soil had undergone considerable physical and chemical changes that lasted for several months. 

The most famous R-V case took place in 1952 over Washington, D.C., where air traffic controllers tracked UFOs while an Air Force pilot reported strange lights were encircling his aircraft. Air Force intelligence explained that the radar images and the strange lights were caused by temperature inversions, an explanation many scientists reject as improbable. 

Another fascinating R-V case occurred on July 17, 1957. An Air Force bomber, an RB-47, was followed by a UFO for 700 miles across four states as it flew from Mississippi to Oklahoma. For an hour and a half the object was seen by the flight crew, detected by the aircraft's electronic gear, and tracked by ground radar. Because of the multiple witnesses, radar confirmation, and the duration of the sighting, most UFO researchers rule out misperception and radar malfunction. The RB-47 case is still unexplained. 

Recently, the most significant Radar-Visual cases have come from Belgium where triangular-shaped UFOs were seen by military personnel and civilians and detected on military radar. The Belgian Air Force has publicly aired recordings of radar trackings that show objects making fantastic maneuvers at incredibly high speeds that are far beyond the capabilities of conventional aircraft. 

Where and when are UFOs most often sighted?
Are there any UFO sightings near my town?

UFO sightings are a worldwide phenomenon, with reports coming from almost every nation. Some countries, however, have more reports than others. In particular, a large number of UFO reports come from the United States, Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and Russia. By contrast, few reports (considering their large populations) are received from Mexico, Germany, and India. No one is sure why the number of UFO reports varies from country to country, but cultural, religious, and political factors are probably involved. 

In the United States, UFOs are sighted in every state, with the greatest number of reports coming from the Northeast and the Southwest. Generally, sightings occur in rural areas, small towns, and near military installations. Statistical analysis indicates that sightings most often occur around 9:00 p.m. with a secondary peak at about 3:00 a.m. UFO reports are evenly distributed throughout the week, with peak periods of reports coming during the summer months, especially July. Since the modern UFO era began, there have been extraordinary numbers of sightings (called waves) in the United States during the years 1947, 1952, 1957, 1966, and 1973. 
To find out if there have been UFO sightings near your town will take some investigative work on your part. Ask your relatives and friends if they have seen a UFO. You may be surprised how many people have seen UFOs but never reported their sightings. Some researchers suggest that only one in ten witnesses actually report their sighting. Check your local newspapers, especially editions published during the wave years listed previously, for news reports and articles about area UFO sightings. Most libraries have collections of old newspapers for you to examine. Finally, read as many good UFO books as you can. You may discover a UFO report from where you live. 

Are computers used to study UFOs?

Many UFO reports are recorded on a computer database called UFOCAT. The UFOCAT computer database was started by Dr. David R. Saunders as part of the Condon UFO Project at the University of Colorado during the late 1960s. It was continued by Dr. Saunders and CUFOS until 1980, at which time UFOCAT contained about 106,000 entries. The UFOCAT project was inactive for ten years but has recently been reactivated by Dr. Donald Johnson, a former associate of Dr. Saunders and CUFOS board member. Originally stored on a mainframe computer, UFOCAT can now be maintained on a personal computer. Although the database lacks many cases from the 1980s, it is still the largest information base on UFO reports, and efforts are underway to add as many unrecorded cases to the system as possible. UFOCAT has fields to record information on dozens of report parameters, including date, location, weather, number of witnesses, effects on witnesses, type of UFO and size, and UFO maneuvers. It does not record narrative details of a UFO report, but instead codes the report information according to a system devised by Dr. Saunders. UFOCAT has been used by many serious researchers to study patterns in location, time, and types of UFO reports. UFOCAT information is available only to serious academic scholars and researchers. 

Is radar used to monitor UFOs?

Although there are cases in which UFOs are tracked by radar (Radar-Visual sightings), radar is not considered a practical surveillance technique for ufology. Radar, including the sophisticated systems of the FAA and NORAD, has many shortcomings that limit its value to UFO research. A UFO may be too low for it to be detected or too fast to appear on the radar screen for more than a few sweeps of the antenna. UFOs that hover or move erratically may be filtered out by a radar's sophisticated computer system as ground scatter or noise. Also, planes with transponders return stronger radar signals than targets not so equipped, and radars are often tuned only to transponder signals. It is also possible that UFOs might not return radar signals at all. 

In spite of the inadequacies of radar in the search for UFOs, FAA supervisors do report "unusual air traffic" in their operational logs, and radar confirmation of a UFO sighting can help verify a report and details of a UFO's physical characteristics. A serious problem for ufologists, however, is that the FAA keeps radarscope tapes of air traffic for only two weeks, and computer printouts of this information can be very expensive. As a result, radar data is only available for cases reported immediately. 

Although rare, one Radar-Visual case is more significant than dozens of nocturnal light reports for increasing our understanding of the UFO phenomenon. 

What theories do researchers have to explain UFO reports?

There are three general theories that try to explain UFOs. They may be: 

  1. the products of intelligent beings; 
  2. unusual but natural phenomena; or 
  3. the result of people's need for a comforting or challenging belief system. 

1. The most popular theory (especially in America) is that UFOs are spacecraft built and operated by aliens from somewhere else in outer space. Some researchers reject the idea that they are space vehicles and speculate that UFOs might be another type of intelligently controlled device. These devices might create a holographic image that people see as something unexplainable, or they may stimulate the brain to create a hallucination that the witness interprets as a real UFO. 

Another possibility is that what people see as UFOs are portals or "wormholes" that connect different parts of our space-time continuum and are used by intelligent beings to move between different points in space-time. Though most proponents of the "intelligent beings" theory believe that the intelligence behind UFOs comes from outer space, others believe it originates in another dimension or on earth itself. A few researchers believe that secret groups of scientists have developed technology beyond the current capabilities of mainstream science. 

All of these ideas, including the aliens-from-outer-space theory, still lack conclusive proof and unambiguous evidence. Individuals who are skeptical of the existence of UFOs specifically direct their criticism most often against this first theory. They argue that the vast distances between stars would make interstellar travel nearly impossible. These skeptics also believe that the many varying descriptions of UFOs and their occupants would imply that many alien groups are visiting the earth, which they consider very unlikely. They also argue that aliens would not be so secretive about their activities and would announce their presence in more obvious ways. Finally, skeptics point out that there is no undeniable evidence, such as a truly authentic photograph or metal from a UFO, that would prove their existence. 
 

2. The second theory states that UFOs are unusual natural phenomena. Ball lightning is an example of a rare and incompletely understood phenomenon. Proponents of the "earthlight theory" argue that geological stresses in the earth's crust produce glowing balls of ionized gas that are ejected into the atmosphere. They think that the properties of this gas (called a plasma) may have strange effects on the people that come near it; plasma may stimulate areas of the brain to produce vivid hallucinations, which might be the basis for abduction cases. 

Opponents argue that the earthlight theory does not take into account all the data. They do not think that geological stress can create a plasma with the size, shape, and duration of reported UFOs. They also question whether an electromagnetically-induced hallucination could create the consistent type of memories reported by abductees. 

3. The third theory proposes that UFOs are the result of psychological or sociological factors. Many scientists, particularly those who are skeptical of the existence of UFOs, argue that all sightings are really misperceptions of natural phenomena or conventional aircraft. They say that these misperceptions are the result of the witness's ignorance, emotional state, or psychological health, or caused by unusual environmental conditions adversely affecting an individual's perception. 

Other researchers believe that the stresses and upheavals in modern society have created a need in many people to establish "contact" with UFOs or aliens. They say that such a need exists because modern society has rejected traditional values and beliefs, leaving individuals adrift with no direction or hope. Through their belief in UFOs and technologically superior aliens, some people can place their faith in something or someone who can help humanity solve its problems and restore purpose to the world. 

Arguments against this theory point out that witnesses usually describe their sightings with a certain level of precision and consistency. UFO reports from emotionally disturbed individuals are rare and easily identifiable. However, there are individuals who claim to have received messages from alien beings, often by "channeling" these messages in a trance-like state. This undoubtedly comes from the channelers' belief system rather than a seemingly objective source like the UFO phenomenon. 

Each of the three theories has its strengths and weaknesses. Because of the complexity of the UFO phenomenon, all three may explain at least a part of the mystery. Only more research and new data will help us solve the UFO enigma. 

Is there intelligent life on other planets?

Although the Center for UFO Studies is not specifically involved in the search for intelligent life on other planets, the idea that some UFOs are alien spacecraft makes this question somewhat relevant to ufology. While there have been many fanciful tales about life on other planets, most scientists search for intelligent life by using radio telescopes tuned to detect the emissions of other technologically advanced civilizations. (Projects involving the search for extraterrestrial intelligence are referred to by the acronym SETI.) One of the first organized attempts to discover extraterrestrial life was Project Ozma (named after the queen of Oz), which was initiated by the American radio astronomer, Frank Drake. The project tuned its telescopes to detect radio emissions from nearby sun-like stars, such as Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani. Although signals proving the existence of intelligent life were never detected, valuable information about the universe was discovered. Since Project Ozma, other attempts have also been made to detect extraterrestrial signals, with one of the longest-running efforts occurring at Ohio State University. 

Despite the lack of success in discovering extraterrestrial signals, most astronomers consider the probability for extraterrestrial life to be very high. This conclusion is based on the Drake equation developed by Frank Drake, who conceived it as a way to stimulate discussion about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence). Seven factors are used in the equation to determine the probable number of technological civilizations able and willing to transmit and receive radio signals. These factors include the rate of starbirth, number of planets around a star, planets with life, supporting environments, intelligent life, communicating societies, and civilization life span. 

Several scientists have also begun to speculate about the possibility that extraterrestrial civilizations have already come in contact with each other, especially in regions of the galaxy where stars are in close proximity. The activities of these highly advanced cosmic societies might be detectable on the earth, providing the evidence SETI projects have sought. 

Some scientists reject the idea that extraterrestrial life exists; a position best expressed by Enrico Fermi's statement (now known as the Fermi Paradox) that if extraterrestrial life exists in the universe, they (the extraterrestrials) should have arrived here by now. So where are they? The argument essentially states that if extraterrestrial intelligent life exists, we would have the evidence for its existence by now because the age of the earth would have given the extraterrestrials enough time to reach here. Of course, if intelligent beings exist elsewhere, many factors may have prevented them from contacting us, or they may have simply chosen not to do so. Then again, the possibility exists that the extraterrestrials have reached the earth. Most scientists involved in SETI projects, however, have not shown an interest in examining UFO data as a way to test this hypothesis. 

What do you say to skeptical people who don't believe in UFOs?

The study of the UFO phenomenon should not involve the issue of belief. Serious ufologists are not trying to make people believe in UFOs; they are trying to show that the UFO phenomenon--whatever it is--deserves serious scientific study. A constant problem ufologists face is ignorance about the subject. Even well-educated skeptics--often college professors--are unaware of the evidence for UFOs, the subject's literature, the history of government involvement and civilian investigations, and the details of significant cases. In fact, serious ufologists are often the best skeptics; they possess greater knowledge about the pros and cons for studying UFOs than debunkers. 

Skeptics often argue against the study of UFOs based upon assumptions unrelated to the evidence. They assume aliens would not visit the earth in the large numbers that UFO reports suggest or that people see UFOs because of some religious or emotional need. Because scientists do not study UFOs, you might assume that the evidence must be lacking. In practical terms, scientists generally study topics that are academically acceptable, have an abundance of data, and can attract funding from government and private sources. 

To those who remain skeptical about the value of UFO research, here are some suggestions: 

  • Read the serious and relevant UFO literature. 
  • Learn about the UFO investigators and research organizations. 
  • Know the facts behind the phenomenon. 
  • Study the data and do not confuse facts with speculation. 
  • Examine the research methods and arguments of skeptics. 

Remember that honest and serious skepticism requires an understanding of the data, relevant scientific and social research, and the world-wide history of the UFO mystery. 

What should you do when you see a UFO?

First, you should call for other people to come and watch the UFO with you. The more witnesses, the more credible the report will be to investigators. Second, you should observe very carefully. If you have a camera, take pictures of the UFO that include known objects in the foreground and background. Remember as many details as possible, especially the time, date, duration, and location of the sighting, the UFO's appearance, shape, apparent size and distance, lights, colors, direction, estimated speed, trajectory, motions, actions, sounds, and how you lost sight of it. Third, after the sighting ends, write down as many details as you can remember. Draw a sketch of the UFO (even if you took photographs) and a map of the area where the sighting occurred. If the UFO left any physical traces or effects, protect the evidence so researchers can investigate and analyze it. Finally, and most importantly, contact the Center for UFO Studies to file your report. 

What do I do to become a ufologist?

There is no formal training required to become a ufologist. In fact, ufology is not so much a professional career as it is a hobby. That is, most researchers study and work in this field on a voluntary basis and have educated themselves about the subject. If you are serious about studying UFOs, you must read the serious literature about the subject. You must also attend college and study any field you find rewarding; this will help you understand the scientific method and develop your critical thinking skills. It is impossible to predict what discipline, whether in the social or physical sciences, will contribute to a further understanding of the UFO phenomenon, so knowledge and perspective of any field of learning may shed light on the phenomenon. Finally, you should try to meet other persons interested in UFOs and who may already be involved with investigations and study. They may have books you can borrow and expertise you can draw upon. 

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