Identifying Unidentified Flying Objects is a difficult task due to the normally poor quality of the evidence provided by those who report sighting the objects. Nevertheless, most officially investigated UFO sightings, such as from the U.S. Air Force's Project Blue Book, have been identified as being due to honest misidentifications of natural phenomena, aircraft, or other prosaic explanations. In early U.S. Air Force attempts to explain UFO sightings, unexplained sightings routinely numbered over one in five reports. However, in early 1953, right after the CIA's Robertson Panel, percentages of unexplained sightings dropped precipitously, usually being only a few percent in any given year. When Project Blue Book closed down in 1970, only 6% of all cases were classified as being truly unidentified.
UFOs that can be explained are sometimes termed "IFOs" or Identified Flying Objects.
The following are some major studies undertaken during the past 50 years that reported on identification of UFOs:
In contrast, much more conservative numbers for the percentage of UFOs were arrived at individually by astronomer Allan Hendry, who was the chief investigator for the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). CUFOS was founded by astronomer Dr. Allen Hynek (who had been a consultant for the Air Force’s Project Blue Book) to provide a serious scientific investigation into UFOs. Hendry spent 15 months personally investigating 1,307 UFO reports. In 1979, Hendry published his conclusions in The UFO Handbook: A Guide to Investigating, Evaluating, and Reporting UFO Sightings. Hendry admitted that he would like to find evidence for extraterrestrials but noted that the vast majority of cases had prosaic explanations. He found 89% of reports definitely or probably identifiable and only 9% unidentified. “Hardcore” cases—well-documented events which defied any conceivable conventional explanation—made up only 1.5% of the reports.
Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14 was compiled between 1951 and 1954, and included 3201 reported UFO sightings. Battelle employed four scientific analysts, who sought to divide cases into "knowns", "unknowns", and a third category of "insufficient information." They also broke down knowns and unknowns into four categories of quality, from excellent to poor. In order for a case to be deemed "identified", two analysts had to independently agree on a solution and for a case to be called "unidentified", all four analysts had to agree. A report classified as "unidentified" was defined as: "Those reports of sightings wherein the description of the object and its maneuvers could not be fitted to the pattern of any known object or phenomenon."
Out of 3,201 cases, 69% were judged to be identified, 22% were unidentified, and 9% had insufficient information to make a determination.
|Clouds, dust, etc.||0.4%||0%||1.0%||0.4%||0%|
BBSR further broke these results down based on whether the identification was considered certain or merely doubtful. For example, in both the astronomical and aircraft IFO categories, 12% were considered certain and 9% were doubtful. Overall, of the 69% listed as IFOs, 42% were thought to be solved with certainty, while 27% were still considered doubtful.
In addition, if a case was lacking in adequate data, it was placed in the insufficient information category, separate from both IFOs and UFOs.
The Battelle BBSR study included of many internal military reports; fully 38% of the cases were designated as military. Military witnesses tended to submit better quality reports, had much fewer reports rated as having insufficient information, and had higher percentages of unknowns. As in the previous breakdown, the percentage of UFOs again rose with case quality for both the military and civilian subcategories.
In the summary table, best reports are those rated excellent and good; worst reports are doubtful” and poor.
A key study of BBSR was to statistically compare IFOs and UFOs by six characteristics: color, number of objects, shape, duration of observations, speed, and light brightness. If there were no significant differences, the two classes were probably the same, the UFOs then representing merely a failure to properly identify prosaic phenomena that could already account for the IFOs. On the other hand, if the differences were statistically significant, this would suggest IFOs and UFOs were indeed distinctly different phenomena.
In the initial results, all characteristics except brightness tested significant at less or much less than 1% (brightness was greater than 5%). By removing "astronomical" sightings from the "knowns" and redoing the test, just two categories, number and speed, were significant at less than 1%, the remainder having results between 3% and 5%. This indicated that there was a statistically significant difference between the characteristics ascribed to UFOs and IFOs, but perhaps not as significant as the initial results suggested. For two characteristics, brightness and speed, the significance actually increased with the revised test.
Like the Air Force, astronomer Allan Hendry found that only a small percentage of cases were hoaxes and that most sightings were actually honest misidentifications of prosaic phenomena. Hendry attributed most of these to inexperience or misperception.
Out of 1,307 cases Hendry deemed 88.6% had clear prosaic explanations (IFOs) and only 8.6% were unknowns (UFOs). Of the UFOs, Hendry reported that 7.1%, might still have a prosaic explanation while 1.5% (20 cases) had no possible plausible explanation and were completely unexplained. The remaining miscellaneous cases (2.8%) were “garbage” cases, where Hendry deemed the witnesses unreliable, the reports hopelessly contradictory, or lacking in sufficient information.
Overall, in the three major categories, 42% of all cases had astronomical explanations, 37% were aircraft, and 5% were balloons. A further breakdown allowed 77% to be readily explained by five main classes of objects: 29% were bright stars or planets, 19% were advertising planes, 15% were other aircraft, 9% were meteors and reentering space debris, and 5% were balloons of various types (mostly weather or advertising balloons but also a few prank balloons).
Hendry also used a case classification system developed by his mentor Dr. J. Allen Hynek, who established CUFOS, where the study was carried out. In this summary table:
|bright stars or planets||360||2||16||2||380||29%|
|meteors, re-entering man-made spacecraft||113||5||4||0||122||9%|
|TOTAL (all cases)||519||7||22||2||550||42%|
|light phenomena (mirage, moon dog, ground lights, searchlights, etc.)||9||1||4||0||14||1.1%|
|other (kites, flares, reflections, windblown debris, etc.)||12||3||1||0||16||1.2%|
|MISC (insufficient information, inconsistent accounts, unreliable witnesses)||36||2.8%|
|Total all cases|
Both BBSR and Hendry found that three classes of objects or phenomena—astronomical, aircraft, or balloons—accounted for a large majority of identifiable UFO reports (referred to as IFOs), 86% and 83% in the two studies. For example, in Hendry’s study, bright stars and planets made up 29% of all cases while meteors (and to a much lesser extent, re-entering space debris) made up 9%. Hovering aircraft such as helicopters or blimps, or aircraft that appear to be hovering, such as airplanes seen at night from the front with their headlights on as they approach for landing can often confuse witnesses, as can aircraft strobe lights. BBSR reported a much higher percentage of balloons than Hendry.
Claims of misidentification are after-the-fact analyses, not direct observations, and are often misconstrued by skeptics and UFO advocates alike: They do not suggest that the experiences did not exist, but merely that they can be explained by prosaic causes. For instance, retrospective analyses of the Jimmy Carter UFO incident of 1969 connect the sighting with the known position of the planet Venus for that time, date, and location. Gordon Cooper, a strong advocate of the Extraterrestrial hypothesis, claimed to have been fooled by the planet Venus when he was a fighter pilot, thinking it a distant enemy plane, and the 1967 "flying cross" of Devon, England and the 1966 Portage County UFO Chase case have both been associated with astronomical sources.
There are several natural and man-made objects that are commonly suggested as explanations for UFO sightings:
|This section requires expansion.|
|This section requires expansion.|
Light distortion from air turbulence can cause celestial bodies to move to a limited degree as can a visual perceptual effect called the autokinetic effect, caused by small, involuntary eye movements after staring at a star-like light against a black background without a frame of reference. To some observers, these may cause stars and planets to appear to start and stop, change direction, or dart around. Hendry and other UFO skeptics attribute complex patterns of apparent motion in UFO reports to the autokinetic effect, but this is disputed.
Another type of misperceived motion sometimes occurs when people are driving in a vehicle. Witnesses may believe the “UFO” was following them even though the celestial body was actually stationary. Even police and other normally reliable witnesses can occasionally be fooled by sightings of bright stars and planets.
In about 10% of Hendry’s cases caused by celestial bodies, witnesses greatly underestimated distances to the objects, giving distance estimates ranging from 200 feet to 125 miles (60 m to 200 km).
According to Hendry, moving clouds may also sometimes confuse observers by creating induced motion. Hendry believes this occasionally makes observers also believe objects have suddenly disappeared or make a rapid departure.
Fata Morgana is a type of mirage responsible for some UFO sightings, by making objects located below the astronomical horizon appear to be hovering in the sky. It also magnifies images and makes them look unrecognizable.
The UFOs seen on radar can also be due to Fata Morgana, since water vapor in the air can create radar mirages more readily than temperature inversions can create optical mirages. According to GEPAN/SEPRA, the official UFO investigation in France,
As is well known, atmospheric ducting is the explanation for certain optical mirages, and in particular the arctic illusion called "fata morgana" where distant ocean or surface ice, which is essentially flat, appears to the viewer in the form of vertical columns and spires, or "castles in the air."
People often assume that mirages occur only rarely. This may be true of optical mirages, but conditions for radar mirages are more common, due to the role played by water vapor which strongly affects the atmospheric refractivity in relation to radio waves. Since clouds are closely associated with high levels of water vapor, optical mirages due to water vapor are often rendered undetectable by the accompanying opaque cloud. On the other hand, radar propagation is essentially unaffected by the water droplets of the cloud so that changes in water vapor content with altitude are very effective in producing atmospheric ducting and radar mirages.
The BBSR and Hendry studies identified as rare causes for UFO reports based on misidentification, such objects and phenomena as birds, light phenomena (including mirages, moondogs, sundogs, auroras, ground lights such as street lights, and searchlights reflected off of clouds), and atmospheric phenomena such as clouds, dust and fog (including unusual cloud formations such as lenticular clouds, noctilucent clouds, rainbow effects, and high-altitude ice crystals). Other identified causes included kites, flares, reflections off windows, and windborn debris.
More recently, Professor Colin Price head of the Geophysics and Planetary Sciences Department at Tel Aviv University has commented that occurrences of upper-atmospheric lightning such as sprites, elves and blue jets could account for some of the strange reports of UFO sightings.
The frequent reporting of bright stars and planets as UFOs has caused at least one misidentification. In August 1965 the U.S. Air Force tried to explain widespread UFO sightings in the midwest as bright stars in or near the constellation Orion. However, Orion, a winter constellation, was still well below the horizon at the time, a fact quickly pointed out by some astronomers, and the Air Force was forced to make a hasty retraction.
This entry is from Wikipedia, the leading user-contributed encyclopedia. It may not have been reviewed by professional editors (see full disclaimer)