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ufo

by Jan Mh on November 30, 2014

Unidentified flying object

An unidentified flying object, or UFO, in its most general definition, is any apparent anomaly in the sky that is not identifiable as a known object or phenomenon. Such anomalies may later be identified, but depending on the evidence or lack of evidence, such an identification may not be possible, generally leaving the anomaly unexplained. While stories of unexplained apparitions have been told since antiquity, the term "UFO" (or "UFOB") was officially created in 1953 by the United States Air Force (USAF) to serve as a catch-all for all such reports. It was stated that a "UFOB" was "any airborne object which by performance, aerodynamic characteristics, or unusual features, does not conform to any presently known aircraft or missile type, or which cannot be positively identified as a familiar object." As originally defined, the term was restricted to those fraction of cases which remained unidentified after investigation, with USAF interest being for potential national security reasons and/or "technical aspects." (See Air Force Regulation 200-2.) During the late 1940s and through the 1950s, UFOs were often referred to popularly as "flying saucers" or "flying discs". The term UFO became more widespread during the 1950s, at first in technical literature, but later in popular use. UFOs garnered considerable interest during the Cold War, an era associated with a heightened concern for national security.

Various studies have concluded that the phenomenon does not represent a threat to national security nor does it contain anything worthy of scientific pursuit (e.g., 1953 CIA Robertson Panel, USAF Project Blue Book, Condon Committee). Culturally, the phenomenon has often been associated with extraterrestrial life or government-related conspiracy theories, and has become a popular theme in fiction.

Unidentified flying object
Photograph of an alleged UFO in New Jersey, taken on July 31, 1952

Terminology

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a UFO as "An unidentified flying object; a 'flying saucer'." The first published book to use the word was authored by Donald E. Keyhoe.[1]

The acronym "UFO" was coined by Captain Edward J. Ruppelt, who headed Project Blue Book, then the USAF's official investigation of UFOs. He wrote, "Obviously the term 'flying saucer' is misleading when applied to objects of every conceivable shape and performance. For this reason the military prefers the more general, if less colorful, name: unidentified flying objects. UFO (pronounced Yoo-foe) for short."[2] Other phrases that were used officially and that predate the UFO acronym include "flying flapjack," "flying disc," "unexplained flying discs," "unidentifiable object," and "flying saucer."[3][4][5]

The phrase "flying saucer" had gained widespread attention after the summer of 1947. On June 24, a civilian pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine objects flying in formation near Mount Rainier. Arnold timed the sighting and estimated the speed of discs to be over 1,200 mph (1,931 km/h). At the time, he described the objects' shape as being somewhat disc-like or saucer-like, leading to newspaper accounts of "flying saucers" and "flying discs." (For details, see Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting.)

In popular usage the term UFO came to be used to refer to alien spacecraft.[1] and because of the public and media ridicule associated with the topic, some investigators prefer to use such terms as unidentified aerial phenomenon (or UAP) or anomalous phenomena, as in the title of the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP).[6]

Studies

Studies have established that the majority of UFO observations are misidentified conventional objects or natural phenomena—most commonly aircraft, balloons, noctilucent clouds, nacreous clouds, or astronomical objects such as meteors or bright planets with a small percentage even being hoaxes.[note 1] Between 5% and 20% of reported sightings are not explained, and therefore can be classified as unidentified in the strictest sense. While proponents of the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) suggest that these unexplained reports are of alien spacecraft, the null hypothesis cannot be excluded that these reports are simply other more prosaic phenomena that cannot be identified due to lack of complete information or due to the necessary subjectivity of the reports.

While UFOs have been the subject of extensive investigation by various governments and although a few scientists have supported the extraterrestrial hypothesis, almost no scientific papers about UFOs have been published in peer-reviewed journals.[7] There was, in the past, some debate in the scientific community about whether any scientific investigation into UFO sightings is warranted with the general conclusion being that the phenomena was not worthy of serious investigation beyond a cultural artifact.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

The void left by the lack of institutional scientific study has given rise to independent researchers and groups, including the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in the mid-20th century and, more recently, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON)[15] and the Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS).[16] The term "Ufology" is used to describe the collective efforts of those who study reports and associated evidence of unidentified flying objects.[17]

UFOs have become a prevalent theme in modern culture,[18] and the social phenomena have been the subject of academic research in sociology and psychology.[7]

Early history

Unexplained aerial observations have been reported throughout history. Some were undoubtedly astronomical in nature: comets, bright meteors, one or more of the five planets that can be seen with the naked eye, planetary conjunctions, or atmospheric optical phenomena such as parhelia and lenticular clouds. An example is Halley's Comet, which was recorded first by Chinese astronomers in 240 BC and possibly as early as 467 BC. Such sightings throughout history often were treated as supernatural portents, angels, or other religious omens. Some current-day UFO researchers have noticed similarities between some religious symbols in medieval paintings and UFO reports[19] though the canonical and symbolic character of such images is documented by art historians placing more conventional religious interpretations on such images.[20]

  • On January 25, 1878, the Denison Daily News noted that John Martin, a local farmer, had reported seeing a large, dark, circular object resembling a balloon flying "at wonderful speed." Martin, according to the newspaper account, said it appeared to be about the size of a saucer, the first known use of the word "saucer" in association with a UFO.[21]
  • In April 1897 thousands of people reported seeing "airships" in various parts of the United States. Many signed affidavits. Scores of people even reported talking to the pilots. Thomas Edison was asked his opinion, and said, "You can take it from me that it is a pure fake."[22][23]
  • On February 28, 1904, there was a sighting by three crew members on the USS Supply 300 miles (483 km) west of San Francisco, reported by Lieutenant Frank Schofield, later to become Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Battle Fleet. Schofield wrote of three bright red egg-shaped and circular objects flying in echelon formation that approached beneath the cloud layer, then changed course and "soared" above the clouds, departing directly away from