UFOs 101


What is a UFO?

An unidentified flying object (UFO) 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 man-made objects, natural phenomenon or hoaxes.


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. After excluding incorrect reports, however, most investigators have acknowledged that between 5% and 20% of reported sightings remain unexplained, and therefore can be classified as unidentified in the strictest sense. Many reports have been made by such trained observers as pilots, police, and the military; some have involved simultaneous radar tracking and visual accounts. Proponents of the extraterrestrial hypothesis suggest that these unexplained reports are of alien spacecraft, though various other hypotheses have been proposed. While UFOs have been the subject of extensive investigation by various governments and although some scientists support the extraterrestrial hypothesis, few scientific papers about UFOs have been published in peer-reviewed journals.There has been some debate in the scientific community about whether any scientific investigation into UFO sightings is warranted.

UFO Terminology:

The first reports of sightings typically referred to mystery airships. When reported, they were so described during the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th. Later, during World War II, the term foo fighters was used by American fighter pilots who reported encounters with UFOs. The first widely publicized U.S. sighting, reported by private pilot Kenneth Arnold in June 1947, gave rise to the popular terms “flying saucer” and “flying disc,” of which the former is still sometimes used, even though Arnold said that most of the objects he saw were not exactly circular and that one was crescent-shaped (see Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting for details). In addition, the infamous Roswell UFO Incident occurred at about the same time, further fueling public interest. The term “UFO” was first suggested in 1952 by Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt, who headed Project Blue Book, then the USAF’s official investigation of UFOs. Ruppelt felt that “flying saucer” did not reflect the diversity of the sightings. He suggested that UFO should be pronounced as a word you-foe. However it is now usually pronounced by forming each letter: U.F.O. Because the term is ambiguous, referring either to any unidentified sighting or in popular usage to alien spacecraft, and because of the public and media ridicule sometimes 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 or NARCAP. The equivalent acronym for UFO in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian is OVNI (Objeto Volador No Identificado, Objeto Voador Não Identificado, Objet volant non identifié or Oggetto Volante Non Identificato), pronounced as one word (ov-nee).

ET Hypothesis:

While technically a UFO refers to any unidentified flying object, in modern popular culture the term UFO has generally become synonymous with alien spacecraft; however, the term ETV (ExtraTerrestrial Vehicle) is sometimes used to separate this explanation of UFOs from totally earthbound explanations.

Proponents argue that because these objects appear to be technological and not natural phenomena and are alleged to display flight characteristics or have shapes seemingly unknown to conventional technology, the conclusion is that they must not be from Earth. Though UFO sightings have occurred throughout recorded history, modern interest in them dates from World War II (see foo fighter), further fueled in the late 1940s by Kenneth Arnold’s report of a close encounter, which led to coining of the term flying saucer, and the Roswell UFO Incident. Since then governments have investigated UFO reports, often from a military perspective, and UFO researchers have investigated, written about, and created organizations devoted to the subject. One such investigation, the UK’s Project Condign, made public in 2006, attributed unaccountable UFO sightings to a hitherto unknown and scientifically unexplained “plasma field.” It also concluded that Russian, former Soviet Republics, and Chinese authorities had made a coordinated effort to understand the UFO phenomenon and that military organizations, particularly in Russia, had done “considerably more work (than is evident from open sources)” on military applications stemming from their UFO research. The report also noted that “several aircraft have been destroyed and at least four pilots have been killed ‘chasing UFOs.

A Convergence of Events?

It is possible that the association between UFOs and extraterrestrial life is more than likely a convergence of events coupled with folklore, hoaxes, and hysteria. These events include post WWII advancements in aerial technology, the Cold War, the Space Race, Science Fiction and the ability for the media and internet to disseminate UFO reports quickly before they could be properly investigated. In the end, evidence of extraterrestrial life remains elusive.

Ancient UFOs

Several scholars and even Hollywood suggest extraterrestrials have been visiting Earth even before the Dawn of Man. They even suggest that some cave paintings and drawings depict “ancient astronauts” or “flying disks”. However, others counter argue that these drawings are nothing more than the imagination of the ancients displaying their affection for the Gods; or mistaken astronomical events such as meteors or natural phenomena.

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 B.C. and possibly as early as 467 B.C. 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 though the canonical and symbolic character of such images is documented by art historians placing more conventional religious interpretations on such images.


Educating the public about UFOs and associated phenomena is the key to reviving Ufology. Here is a collection of common words and phrases typically associated with UFOs and investigations.Abductee: A person or person(s) who claims to have been abducted by an extraterrestrial or associated entity. Although there are thousands of alleged abductees and associated reports, there is no support from the scientific community to support these claims.

Alpha Centauri: Alpha Centauri is the brightest star in the southern constellation of Centaurus. Although it appears to the unaided eye as a single object, Alpha Centauri is actually a binary star system.

Altocumulus Castellanus Formations: Clouds named for their tower-like projections, which billow upwards from the base of each cloud. The base of the cloud can form as low as 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) or as high as 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). Apogee: The point in the orbit of an object orbiting the earth at the greatest distance from the center of the earth.

Anti-Gravity: The idea of creating a place or object that is free from the force of gravity. Close Encounter: An event in which a person witnesses a UFO at close proximity.

Counterintelligence: Efforts made by intelligence organizations to prevent hostile or enemy intelligence organizations from successfully gathering and collecting intelligence.

Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA): A former United States Department of Defense agency whose size and budget were classified. CIFA was created by a directive from the Secretary of Defense (Number 5105.67) on February 19, 2002, and shut down on August 8, 2008.

Cumulus Humilis: A low- to middle-range cloud that is commonly referred to as “fair weather cumulus.” In hot countries and over mountainous terrain these clouds occur at up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet) altitude, though elsewhere they are typically found at lower altitudes.

Electronic Intelligence (ELINT): Intelligence derived from electromagnetic radiations from foreign sources (other than radioactive sources).

Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP): In the paranormal industry, this term refers to purported electronically generated noises that resemble speech but are supposedly not the result of intentional voice recordings or renderings.

Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF): A standard that specifies the formats for images, sound, and ancillary tags used by digital cameras (including smartphones), scanners, and other systems handling image and sound files recorded by digital cameras.

Experiencer: In Ufology, a new term being used to describe a person who has seen a UFO, entity, or has been abducted.

Extraterrestrial: This term may refer to any object or being beyond (extra-) Earth (terrestrial). It is derived from the Latin Root extra (“outside,” “outwards”) and terrestris (“earthly”).

Gravity: The natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract each other with a force proportional to their masses, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

Investigative Process: Actions and steps taken during an investigation that result in delivering a final report that conveys the investigation results.

Lens Flares: The light scattered in lens systems through generally unwanted image formation mechanisms, such as internal reflection or scattering from material inhomogeneities in the lens.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO): An orbit below an altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles).

Men in Black (MIB): In American popular culture and in UFO conspiracy theories, “MIB” are men dressed in black suits who claim to be government agents and who harass or threaten UFO witnesses to keep the latter quiet about what they (the witnesses) have seen. It is sometimes implied that the MIB may be extraterrestrials themselves.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): The agency of the U.S. government responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

National Security Agency (NSA): The NSA is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the U.S. Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as for protecting U.S. government communications and information systems.

Pareidolia: A psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. A few common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, seeing the man in the moon, and hearing hidden messages on records when they are played in reverse.

Perigee: The point in the orbit of an object orbiting the earth nearest to the center of the earth.

Project Blue Book: This term refers to studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the U.S. Air Force. Started in 1952, this was the third revival of such a study (the first two of its kind being Projects Sign and Grudge). A termination order from the U.S. Air Force was given for the study in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices ceased in January 1970.

Radiation: A process in which energetic particles or energetic waves travel through a vacuum, or through matter-containing media that are not required for their propagation. Waves of a mass filled medium itself, such as water waves or sound waves, are usually not considered to be forms of “radiation” in this sense.

Rayleigh Scattering: The elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light. The particles may be individual atoms or molecules. This scattering can occur when light travels through transparent solids and liquids, although it is most prominently seen in gases.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): An agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation that has authority to regulate and oversee all aspects of civil aviation in the U.S.

The Mutual UFO Network (MUFON): An American non-profit organization that investigates cases of reported UFO sightings. It is one of the oldest and largest UFO-investigative organizations in the U.S.

The National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC): An organization in the U.S. that investigates UFO sightings and/or extraterrestrial contacts. NUFORC has been in continuous operation since 1974.

The SETI Institute (SETI): The SETI Institute is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to “explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature, and prevalence of life in the universe.”

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP): The doctrine an organization applies to adjust its products, organizations, and processes to maximize the support provided to the customer.

United Kingdom Royal Entomology Society: The Royal Entomological Society plays a major national and international role in disseminating information about insects and improving communication between entomologists. The Society was founded in 1833 as the Entomological Society of London and is the successor to a number of short-lived societies dating back to 1745.

Unidentified Flying Object (UFO): An unusual, apparent anomaly in the sky that is not readily identifiable to the observer as any known object; it is often associated with extraterrestrial life.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle: Commonly known as a drone, this is an aircraft without a human pilot on board. Either computers in the vehicle control its flight autonomously, or it is under the remote control of a navigator or pilot.

Vega: The brightest star in the constellation Lyra, Vega is the fifth-brightest star in the night sky and the second-brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. It is a relatively close star at only twenty-five light-years from Earth.

Waxing Gibbous: The phase of the moon at which more than half the circle is visible; it occurs just before the full moon, when the entire orb is visible.