Frequently asked questions about UFOs

This list represents the commonest questions that people new to the subject ask about the UFO phenomenon. We have tried to keep the answers simple, so that students and interested persons of all ages can grasp the essentials of this very complex subject. The questions here are concerned with the UFO phenomenon in general. For information on Roswell, Abductions, or Related Phenomena, please refer to those pages.

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?

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.

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. If UFOs 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.

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, adar 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?

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 should you do when you see a UFO?

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.