A term originally coined by the military, an unidentified flying object (usually abbreviated to UFO or U.F.O.) is an unusual apparent anomaly in the sky that is not readily identifiable to the observer as any known object. While a small percentage remain unexplained, the majority of UFO sightings are often later identified as any number of various natural phenomenon or man-made objects.
The Kenneth Arnold sightings:
The post World War II UFO phase in the United States began with a famous sighting by American businessman Kenneth Arnold on June 24, 1947 while flying his private plane near Mount Rainier, Washington. He reported seeing nine brilliantly bright objects flying across the face of Rainier.
Although there were other 1947 U.S. sightings of similar objects that preceded this, it was Arnold’s sighting that first received significant media attention and captured the public’s imagination. Arnold described what he saw as being “flat like a pie pan”, “shaped like saucers and were so thin I could barely see them… “, “half-moon shaped, oval in front and convex in the rear. … they looked like a big flat disk” (see Arnold’s drawing at right), and flew “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water”. (One of the objects, however, he would describe later as crescent-shaped, as shown in illustration at left.) Arnold’s descriptions were widely reported and within a few days gave rise to the terms flying saucer and flying disk. Arnold’s sighting was followed in the next few weeks by hundreds of other reported sightings, mostly in the U.S., but in other countries as well. After reports of the Arnold sighting hit the media, other cases began to be reported in increasing numbers. In one instance a United Airlines crew sighting of nine more disc-like objects over Idaho on the evening of July 4. At the time, this sighting was even more widely reported than Arnold’s and lent considerable credence to Arnold’s report.
This shows the report Kenneth Arnold filed in 1947 about his UFO sighting.
American UFO researcher Ted Bloecher, in his comprehensive review of newspaper reports (including cases that preceded Arnold’s), found a sudden surge upwards in sightings on July 4, peaking on July 6–8. Bloecher noted that for the next few days most American newspapers were filled with front-page stories of the new “flying saucers” or “flying discs”. Speculation as to what the flying saucers were was rampant in the newspapers. Theories ranged from hallucinations, mass hysteria, optical illusions, hoaxes, reflections off airplanes, unusual atmospheric conditions, and weather balloons to byproducts of atomic testing or U.S./Russian secret weapons, to even more esoteric interdimensional or interplanetary visitors. Reports began to rapidly tail off after July 8, when officials began issuing press statements on the Roswell UFO incident, in which they explained debris found on the ground by a rancher as being that of a weather balloon.
Over several years in the 1960s, Bloecher (aided by physicist James E. McDonald) discovered 853 flying disc sightings that year from 140 newspapers from Canada, Washington D.C, and every U.S. state except Montana.
Allen Hynek was a trained astronomer who participated in Project Bluebook after doing research as a federal government employee. He formed the opinion that some UFO reports could not be scientifically explained. Through his founding of the Center for UFO Studies and participation at CUFOs he spent the rest of his life researching and documenting UFOs. The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a character loosely based on Hynek. Another group studying UFOs is Mutual UFO Network. MUFON is a grass roots based organization known for publishing one of the first UFO investigators handbooks. This handbook went into great detail on how to document alleged UFO sightings.
Jacques Vallée, a scientist and prominent UFO researcher, has argued that most UFO research is scientifically deficient, including many government studies such as Project Blue Book, and that mythology and cultism are frequently associated with the phenomenon. Vallée states that self-styled scientists often fill the vacuum left by the lack of attention paid to the UFO phenomenon by official science, but also notes that several hundred professional scientists continue to study UFOs in private, what he terms the “invisible college”. He also argues that much could be learned from rigorous scientific study, but that little such work has been done.