For decades now, eyes and sky have met
to witness the buzzing of our world by Unidentified
Flying Objects, termed UFOs or simply flying
saucers. Extraterrestrials have come a long way to
purportedly share the friendly skies with us.
UFOs and alien visitors are part of our
culture—a far-out phenomenon when judged against those
"low life" wonders Bigfoot
and the Loch
And after all those years, as the saying
goes, UFOs remain a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in
an enigma. Why so? For one, the field is fraught with
hucksterism. It's also replete with blurry photos and
awful video. But then there are also well-intentioned
and puzzled witnesses [See Top
10 Alien Encounters Debunked].
Scientifically speaking, are UFOs worth
keeping an eye on?
There have been advances in the field of
UFO research, said Ted Roe, Executive Director of the
National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous
Phenomena (NARCAP), based in Vallejo, California.
"The capture of optical spectra from
mobile, unpredictable luminosities is one of those
innovations. More work to be done here but [there are]
some good results already."
NARCAP was established in 2000 and is
dedicated to the advancement of aviation safety issues
as they apply to, what they term Unidentified Aerial
Roe said that a decade from now,
researchers should have even better instrumentation at
their disposal and better data on UAP of several
varieties. His forecast is that scientific rigor will
prevail, demonstrating that there are "stable, mobile,
unusual, poorly documented phenomena with quite unusual
properties manifesting within our atmosphere," he told
NARCAP has made the case that some of
these phenomena have unusual electromagnetic properties.
Therefore, they could disrupt microprocessors and
adversely effect avionic systems, Roe explained, and
that for those reasons and others UAP should be
considered a hazard to safe aviation.
"It is likely that either conclusion
will fly in the face of the general assertion that UAP
are not real and that there are no undocumented
phenomena in our atmosphere," Roe continued. That should
open the door, he said, to the realization that there's
no good reason to discard outright the possibility that
extraterrestrial visitation has occurred and may be
"Physics is leading to new and
potentially paradigm shifting understandings about the
nature of our universe and its physical properties," Roe
said. "These understandings may point the way towards an
acceptance of the probability of interstellar travel and
communication by spacefaring races."
Sacred cows to the
As UFO debunker Robert Sheaffer's web
site proclaims, he's "skeptical to the max." He is a
fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation
of Claims of the Paranormal and a well-known writer on
the UFO scene.
Being an equal-opportunity debunker,
Sheaffer notes that he refutes whatever nonsense, in his
judgment, "stands in the greatest need of refuting, no
matter from what source it may come, no matter how
privileged, esteemed, or sacrosanct … sacred cows, after
all, make the best hamburger."
Sheaffer told SPACE.com, in
regards to the cottage industry of UFO promoters,
there's a reason there are still so many snake-oil
"It's because nobody, anywhere, has any
actual facts concerning alleged UFOs, just
claims. That allows con-men to thrive peddling their
yarns," Sheaffer said. "UFO believers are convinced that
the existence of UFOs will be revealed 'any day now'.
But it's like Charlie Brown and the football: No matter
how many times Lucy pulls the football away—or the
promised 'disclosure' fails to happen—they're
dead-certain that the next time will be their
moment of glory."
Trash from the past
"I would have to say that we're stuck in
neutral," said Kevin Randle, a leading expert and writer
on UFOs and is known as a dogged researcher of the
phenomena. There's no real new research, he said, and
that's "because we have to revisit the trash of the
Randle points to yesteryear stories, one
stretching back in time to a supposed 1897 airship crash
in Aurora, Texas, long proven to be a hoax by two con
men—yet continues to surface in UFO circles.
Then there's the celebrated Thomas
Mantell saga, a pilot that lost his life chasing a UFO
in 1948. There are those that contend he was killed by a
blue beam from a UFO, Randle said "even though we have
known for years that the UFO was a balloon and he
violated regulations by climbing above 14,000 feet
without oxygen equipment. I mean, we know this, and yet
there are those who believe that Mantell was killed by
Randle's advice is to the point: "We
need to begin to apply rigorous standards of research …
stop accepting what we wish to believe even when the
evidence is poor, and begin thinking ahead."
Paucity of physical
"I've no doubt that UFOs are here to
stay," said Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI
Institute in Mountain View, California. "I'm just not
convinced that alien craft are here to stay … or for
that matter, even here for brief visits.
despite a torrent of sightings for more than a
half-century, I can't think of a single, major science
museum that has alien artifacts on display," Shostak
said. "Contrast this paucity of physical evidence with
what the American Indians could have shown you fifty
years after Christopher Columbus first violated their
sea-space. They could have shown you all sorts of
stuff—including lots of smallpox-infested brethren—as
proof that they were being 'visited,'" he said.
When it comes to extraterrestrial
visitors in the 21st century, the evidence is anecdotal,
ambiguous, or, in some cases, artifice, Shostak
Calling it "argument from ignorance",
Shostak pointed to the claim that aliens must have
careened out of control above the New Mexico desert
simply because some classified government documents
sport a bunch of blacked-out text. "How does the
latter prove the former?"
Sure, the missing verbiage is consistent
with a government cover-up of an alien crash landing,
Shostak said. "But it's also consistent with an
infinitude of other scenarios…not all of them involving
sloppy alien pilots," he added.
Shostak said that
it is not impossible that we
could be visited. It doesn't violate physics to
travel between the stars, although that's not easy to
"But really, if you're going to claim—or
for that matter, believe—that extraterrestrials are
strafing the cities, or occasionally assaulting the
neighbors with an aggression inappropriate for a first
date, then I urge you to find evidence that leaves
little doubt among the professionally skeptical
community known as the world of science."
Why is there precious little to show
that world of science that UFOs merit attention?
"Obviously there is not a simple answer,
but part of it is reluctance of the scientific community
to support such research," explained Bruce Maccabee,
regarded as a meticulous researcher and an optical
physicist using those talents to study photographs and
video of unexplained phenomena.
Why this reluctance?
"In my humble opinion it is largely a
result of 'tradition'…tradition set by the U.S. Air
Force in the early years when they publicly stated that
everything was under control, they were
investigating…and finding nothing that couldn't be
explained," Maccabee said.
Nevertheless, Maccabee observed, work on
the phenomenon will carry on.
"UFO studies will continue until all the
old cases have either been explained or admitted to
being unexplainable—meaning a residue of sightings that
could be ET related—and/or until people stop seeing
unexplainable UFO-like events throughout the world,"