Between new satellite constellations, a slight decrease in light pollution recorded during lockdowns and perhaps a little more time spent looking at the night sky, the year of the pandemic saw a surge in the number of sightings of aerial phenomena and unidentified curious flying objects – at least not right away
The Ansa had already given the news last January, reporting the data collected by the National UFO Center: 380 reports on the national territory, with an increase of 57 percent compared to 241 in 2019. And now we discover from the New York Times that the phenomenon it has no borders: compared to the previous year, 2020 marks about a thousand more sightings in the United States, where they reached 7,200. Even doubled in the state of New York, according to the National UFO Reporting Center. We are talking about sightings of unidentified flying objects. UFO. Sightings that experienced a real boom in the year of the pandemic. Why?
First of all it is good to clarify what is meant here by UFO: neither more nor less than what the acronym says. Flying objects or aerial phenomena that it is not clear what they are. The hypothesis that the aliens have thought of visiting us more often than usual during the months of the lockdown , defying red zones and curfews, however suggestive, unfortunately remains highly unlikely – to put it mildly. Alternative explanations are not lacking, much more banal but also much less at risk of being sliced by Occam’s razor, and they are roughly always the same – from atmospheric phenomena to sounding balloons.
However, there was some news, more or less positive depending on the point of view, but still able to explain – at least in part – this sudden boom in reports. There was, for example, the publication by the United States Department of Defense, which took place in April 2020 with a certain media echo and resumed just last week by the Pentagon which confirmed the source, of some sighting videos of unidentified objects – or more precisely of unidentified aerial phenomena . Nothing special, looking at them with a minimum of detachment, but that was enough to feed the suggestion.
A second explanation can be traced back to a myriad of new flying objects which are very identifiable for those who know them but which may have understandably aroused curiosity in those who had not been aware of their deployment on the terrestrial skies: we are talking about the satellite constellations, Starlink in the head, which to starting from 2019they have begun to populate – heralded by their unmistakable light trains – the low orbit. “In fact, 41 percent of the reports”, explains the National UFO Center at Ansa, referring to the sightings in Italy in 2020, “are attributable to the passage of the Starlink satellites”, with a peak in March (29 sightings) and April (75). Always among the clearly identifiable objects but in any case at the origin of some reports we must then include airships such as the Blimp of Goodyear , which has chosen 2020 to return to sail the skies of Europe and the world .
However, the pandemic also appears to have played a significant role. You want it because those who could – thanks to smartworking – have moved away from cities to move to places where the night sky is darker. Do you want for the concomitant reduction of light pollution recorded also in 2020, in particular during the months of lockdowns , as reported recently in an article on ” Effects of the COVID-19 Lockdown on Urban Light Emissions ” published last January on Remote Sensing . The fact is that the opportunities to get lost in the starry sky – and therefore also to spot something unusual – may have been more frequent than usual.
The 11 witnesses who arrived at the Hopkinsville police station were genuinely terror-struck.
Why are aliens so often depicted as “little green men” with bulbous heads and oversized eyes?
The mythology began, in part, on the night of August 21, 1955, when a large extended farm family called the Suttons arrived breathlessly at the Hopkinsville police station in southwestern Kentucky. Their story of a terrifying siege by otherworldly beings would become one of the most detailed and baffling accounts of an alien close encounter on record—notable for the large number of witnesses (nearly a dozen), the duration of the encounter (several hours) and the close proximity between the witnesses and creatures (sometimes just a few feet away). The incident quickly became regional and even national news.
The alleged encounter occurred on the Suttons’ farm in the tiny rural hamlet of Kelly, Kentucky, where the family lived in an unpainted three-room house without running water, telephone, radio, TV or books. Of all the details of their story—the UFO landing and the appearance of small alien creatures—one fact is indisputable: When the eight adults and three children arrived at the nearby Hopkinsville police station at about 11 p.m., they were genuinely terror-struck.
“These aren’t the kind of people who normally run to the police for help,” police chief Russell Greenwell later told investigators. “What they do is reach for their guns.” Yet here they were, women and children hysterical and one man with a pulse of 140 beats per minute, measured by an investigator.
Small metallic humanoids, impervious to bullets
According to accounts given to the police, at about 7 p.m. on the hot Sunday evening, Sutton family friend Billy Ray Taylor was fetching water from the backyard well when he saw a silvery object, “real bright, with an exhaust all the colors of the rainbow.” As he later recounted, it came silently toward the house, passed over it, stopped in the air—and then dropped straight to the ground.
Taylor, 21, and his 18-year-old wife had come from Pennsylvania to visit Lucky Sutton, with whom he had worked on a traveling carnival. The Suttons—50-year-old widow and matriarch Glennie Lankford, her two older sons and their wives, a brother-in-law and the widow’s three younger children (12, 10, and 7)—didn’t take Billy Ray seriously, laughing off his UFO account.
An hour later, alerted by the dog’s incessant barking. Lucky and Billy Ray went to the back door and made out a strange glow, in the midst of which they spied a small humanoid creature. About three-and-a-half feet tall, it had an “oversized head…almost perfectly round, [its] arms extended almost to the ground, [its] hands had talons…and [its oversized] eyes glowed with a yellowish light.” The body gave off an eerie shimmer in the light of the night’s new moon, they said—as if made of “silver metal.”
Terrified, the two men grabbed a 20-gauge shotgun and a .22 rifle and fired at the “little man”—its “hands” now raised as if held up at gunpoint as it came toward the back door. They reported that it then did a “flip,” scrambled upright and fled into the darkness.
Shortly after, the men saw a similar creature appear in a side window—and fired through the window screen. Still impervious to bullets, the “little man” again flipped, then disappeared. “I went out in the hallway and crouched down next to Billy, when I saw one approaching the door,” Mrs. Lankford told Isabel Davis, author of an extensive report called Close Encounter at Kelly and Others of 1955. “It looked like a five-gallon gasoline can with a head on top and small legs. It was a shimmering bright metal like on my refrigerator.”
Touched by an alien?
The drama escalated when Taylor stepped outside under the small overhanging roof, and those behind him saw a claw-like hand reach down and touch his hair. The group screamed and pulled Taylor back while Lucky shot above the overhang and then at another similar creature in a nearby tree. It floated to the ground and then scurried into the woods.
The Suttons moved inside and spent several hours listening for movements, hearing mostly occasional scratches on the roof. At 11 p.m., the whole group ran for the cars and high-tailed it to the Hopkinsville police station at top speed.
After the local police chief called for backup, his team was joined at the Sutton farm by state police, military police from nearby Fort Campbell and a photographer from the Kentucky New Era. There, investigators found shell casings from the gun shots, but no other evidence. Neither could they find proof of heavy drinking. According to the Sutton matriarch, “liquor was not allowed in the farmhouse.”
Once the police and others left, though, the creatures returned between 2:30 a.m. and daybreak. Mrs. Lankford said she saw one glowing repeatedly by her bedside window, its claw-like hand on the screen.
Curiosity seekers descend
In the following days, after radio stations and newspapers (including The New York Times) reported the incident, hundreds of curiosity seekers descended on the farm, often ridiculing the Suttons as ignorant or fraudulent. When “No Trespassing” signs proved useless at discouraging them, the family tried charging admission: 50 cents for entering the grounds, $1 for information, $10 for taking pictures. After that, skeptics blasted them as fortune-seeking fabulists.
As the Kelly story spread into the world, it took on a life of its own. The number of “little men” grew to a dozen or more. A few years later, the little metallic men were conflated with an Eastern Kentucky woman’s report of a flying saucer and a six-foot tall man in green, helping launch the myth of little green men.
What investigators say
The day after the incident, police investigators returned to the farmhouse, searching for evidence of a saucer landing, footprints, blood trails or scratch marks on the roof. They found nothing. Bud Ledwith, a local radio station employee, interviewed the adult eyewitnesses and made drawings based on their accounts. According to Davis, he was impressed by their remarkable specificity and consistency, even though the men were away from the farmhouse all day, unable to coordinate with the others.
While the incident eventually attracted the attention of the Air Force UFO-investigation program Project Blue Book, documents suggest that its team never officially pursued the matter—beyond checking in with their Fort Campbell counterparts who had been briefly at the scene the first night.
One of the most thorough investigations of the Kelly incident was undertaken in 1956 by ufologist Isabel Davis—and published several decades later by the Center for UFO Studies, a group founded by astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Project Blue Book’s civilian investigator. Her nearly 200-page report, co-written with Ted Bloecher, includes detailed maps, drawings, documentary records, summaries of similar accounts around the world and interviews with several Sutton family members and police investigators.
Davis summarized the latter’s concern about the lack of physical evidence. But to her reckoning, none of the possible explanations—a deliberate hoax, a publicity play, group hallucinations—made sense. While questions arose about whether the young men were exaggerating (possibly fueled by hidden stores of liquor), Davis’s strong impression after meeting Mrs. Lankford was one of a somber, no-nonsense matriarch who abhorred the limelight and had no reason to lie. None of the witnesses, Davis noted, had any history of making “preposterous allegations.”
In 2006, Joe Nickell, senior research fellow of the international Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a self-styled paranormal investigator, reviewed the accumulated evidence in an article entitled “Siege of the ‘Little Green Men’: The 1955 Kelly, Kentucky Incident.” In it, he raised suspicion about what he called Billy Taylor’s “embroidered testimony.” He matched Taylor’s UFO sighting with similar reports from that day, which suggested a small meteor in the vicinity.
As for the “little men,” Nickell floated an explanation used for other alien encounter stories: owls. In particular, the Great Horned Owl (a.k.a. the “hoot” owl) has long wings that could be mistaken for arms—along with talons, yellow eyes, long ears and round head that might also match the “little men” description. As for their metallic shine, Nickell suggests, they could have easily been reflecting moonlight.
But while hoot owls are known to be active at dusk and extremely aggressive when defending their nest, some investigators question characterizations of the creatures as hostile. To some, their behavior that night in Kelly appeared to simply be…curious.
This article is originally written by Volker Janssen and is republished here from history under common creative licenses. To read original click here.
If intelligent aliens visit the Earth, it would be one of the most profound events in human history.
Surveys show that nearly half of Americans believe that aliens have visited the Earth, either in the ancient past or recently. That percentage has been increasing. Belief in alien visitation is greater than belief that Bigfoot is a real creature, but less than belief that places can be haunted by spirits.
Scientists dismiss these beliefs as not representing real physical phenomena. They don’t deny the existence of intelligent aliens. But they set a high bar for proof that we’ve been visited by creatures from another star system. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less.
There’s a long history of UFO sightings. Air Force studies of UFOs have been going on since the 1940s. In the United States, “ground zero” for UFOs occurred in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico. The fact that the Roswell incident was soon explained as the crash landing of a military high-altitude balloon didn’t stem a tide of new sightings. The majority of UFOs appear to people in the United States. It’s curious that Asia and Africa have so few sightings despite their large populations, and even more surprising that the sightings stop at the Canadian and Mexican borders.
Most UFOs have mundane explanations. Over half can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus. Such bright objects are familiar to astronomers but are often not recognized by members of the public. Reports of visits from UFOs inexplicably peaked about six years ago.
While UFOs continue to swirl in the popular culture, scientists are trying to answer the big question that is raised by UFOs: Are we alone?
Astronomers have discovered over 4,000 exoplanets, or planets orbiting other stars, a number that doubles every two years. Some of these exoplanets are considered habitable, since they are close to the Earth’s mass and at the right distance from their stars to have water on their surfaces. The nearest of these habitable planets are less than 20 light years away, in our cosmic “back yard.” Extrapolating from these results leads to a projection of 300 million habitable worlds in our galaxy. Each of these Earth-like planets is a potential biological experiment, and there have been billions of years since they formed for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge.
Astronomers are very confident there is life beyond the Earth. As astronomer and ace exoplanet-hunter Geoff Marcy, puts it, “The universe is apparently bulging at the seams with the ingredients of biology.” There are many steps in the progression from Earths with suitable conditions for life to intelligent aliens hopping from star to star. Astronomers use the Drake Equation to estimate the number of technological alien civilizations in our galaxy. There are many uncertainties in the Drake Equation, but interpreting it in the light of recent exoplanet discoveries makes it very unlikely that we are the only, or the first, advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for intelligent life, which has been unsuccessful so far. So researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?” to “Where are they?”
The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi Paradox. Even if intelligent aliens do exist, there are a number of reasons why we might not have found them and they might not have found us. Scientists do not discount the idea of aliens. But they aren’t convinced by the evidence to date because it is unreliable, or because there are so many other more mundane explanations.
Modern myth and religion
UFOs are part of the landscape of conspiracy theories, including accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles created by aliens. I remain skeptical that intelligent beings with vastly superior technology would travel trillion of miles just to press down our wheat.
So no, I don’t think belief in UFOs is crazy, because some flying objects are unidentified, and the existence of intelligent aliens is scientifically plausible.
But a study of young adults did find that UFO belief is associated with schizotypal personality, a tendency toward social anxiety, paranoid ideas and transient psychosis. If you believe in UFOs, you might look at what other unconventional beliefs you have.
I’m not signing on to the UFO “religion,” so call me an agnostic. I recall the aphorism popularized by Carl Sagan, “It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out.”
Here’s an assignment: Stare at a bright, stationary point on a dark background. It could be a star in the night sky, a faraway streetlight, or a dot of white-out on black construction paper. Whatever it is, if you stare at it long enough, it will start to … move.
You’re not losing your mind. In fact, you’ve been in good company throughout history. At the turn of the 19th century, long before your personal dot started to dance, German astronomer Alexander von Humboldt ran into this same phenomenon. Stargazing without his telescope, he perceived some stars in the sky to be moving. He decided this was an important discovery, and termed it “Sternschwanken,” or “swinging stars.”
It took decades for the scientific community to realize that von Humboldt hadn’t unearthed secret star movements so much as the secret movements of his own eyes. See, the human eye moves a lot throughout the day, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily. When you have a stable point of reference in your field of vision alongside the bright dot, your brain can edit out your eye movements, removing any blurring or twitchiness in what you see..
However, when your entire field of vision is filled with a white dot against a dark background — or in von Humboldt’s case, multiple white dots — you lose the ability to distinguish between movements of your eye and movements of the dot. So when your eye muscles start to fatigue from staring and it causes slight eye movements, you mistakenly attribute the movement to whatever you’re looking at.
This optical illusion is hard for human beings to cope with. We tend to trust our eyes over our other senses — you’re more likely to hear an indignant “I saw it with my own eyes!” than “I smelled it with my own nose!” — so inexplicable motion causes a lot of confusion.
Von Humboldt only came up with the first of many ways of coping. His “swinging stars” theory has been debunked, but it’s since been neatly replaced with the idea of UFOs. Many UFO sightings are, in fact, the autokinetic effect in action. The effect also explains why staring at the sky intensely, searching for UFOs around say, Area 51, helps you “find” them — the act of staring triggers the illusion of motion.
People also cope with visual confusion by conferring with other people who saw the confusing sight and reaching a consensus about it. For instance, in a 1935 study, Muzafer Sherif asked subjects to stare at a stationary spot of white light and then estimate how much it moved. Their estimates ranged from 20 to 80 centimeters — a wide range, given that the spot hadn’t moved at all.
Later, Sherif put these subjects in groups of three, engineered so that each group had two people with similar estimates, and one person with an outlier estimate. The outlier always ended up agreeing with the other two after the group discussed. While this is widely thought to reveal a human instinct for conformity, it also shows that when we experience the autokinetic effect, we doubt our own eyes and seek an explanation (or even a description) of the event that’s corroborated by other people.
In which case, here’s another possible explanation for a UFO sighting, or a moving pinprick of light in the dark: You’re seeing things. Not because you’re crazy, but because you’re a human with glitchy human eyes.
The next time a “Wow!” Signal comes from space — and the science community begins chattering about aliens — there’s an updated scale available to help you decide whether to listen to them. Called the Rio Scale 2.0, it’s a measure of how close a piece of scientific research comes to finding alien life. The higher the mark, the more you should pay attention.
The trouble with social media is it can easily blow the smallest news stories way out of proportion. The science community wants to take more responsibility for how they present their findings. Scientists have an obstacle, though. Often, the reporters covering “alien” stories don’t understand the science themselves. Or the science is too new to come up with any definite conclusions. But if you start out by reading about an “alien megastructure” in space (a real-life story from last year), then scientists find out that the weird pattern of dimmings and brightenings was actually due to nothing more than dust, it is frustrating.
That’s where the Rio Scale comes in. First developed in 2001 and updated for the social media world just recently, the scale will help the public decide whether an “alien” story is actually credible. The scale ranges from “0” for “no evidence,” moves into the intermediate range around 5, and then ranks stories with the most extraordinary evidence at 10. Scientists can publish or tweet the Rio Scale along with their findings, and hopefully, responsible journalists would do the same thing.
It may take some time for the scale to be widely used. The Rio Scale isn’t well-known today, even though it’s been in use for nearly 20 years. But perhaps some support from one of the most well-known SETI scientists will help to spread the word.
“The whole world knows about the Richter Scale for quantifying the severity of an earthquake; that number is reported immediately following a quake and subsequently refined as more data are consolidated,” said Jill Tarter, a co-author of the research and co-founder of the SETI Institute, in a statement.
“The SETI community is attempting to create a scale that can accompany reports of any claims of the detection of extraterrestrial intelligence and be refined over time as more data become available. This scale should convey both the significance and credibility of the claimed detection.”
Lead researcher Duncan Forgan, who is with the Centre for Exoplanet Science at the University of St. Andrews, added in the same statement that the general public will better understand science research with the scale. “[It] helps us keep their trust in a world filled with fake news,” he said in the same statement.
Do you agree with their conclusions? Check out more details about the updated Rio Scale at the International Journal of Astrobiology, and let us know what you think. You can also use this (older) handy online calculator for Rio, which surely will be updated soon with the newest scale.
Ever see a mob of aliens pop out of a UFO but you just didn’t quite know how to describe it? Ugh, we know the feeling. For that, and probably at least one other good reason (right?), there is the Hynek Scale. Finally, a way to sort through all of your close calls with E.T.
All jokes aside, the overwhelming number of UFO sightings is nothing to brush off without some investigation into what’s really going on. Enter J. Allen Hynek, astrophysicist, scientific adviser to UFO studies by the U.S. Air Force from 1948 to 1969, and founder of the Center for U.F.O. Studies in 1973.
“I started almost as a complete skeptic because I thought the whole thing was a question of post-war nerves,” Hynek admitted about UFOs in a 1977 interview, “but it was a persistence of the phenomenon that refused to dry up and blow away that finally led me to the belief that we had a real phenomenon to deal with.”
It was in his 1972 book “The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry” that Hynek penned what would become his legacy: his close encounters scale, also known as the Hynek Scale. This six-item list is a system for categorizing reports of UFO sightings and alien encounters. You’ve heard of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi flick “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” right? He got it straight from the 1972 text. Hynek even served as scientific advisor on the film and makes a cameo (keep your eyes peeled for the Colonel Sanders-looking dude). Without further ado, here is the Hynek Scale:
1. Nocturnal lights. These are wacky lights in the night sky that move unlike planes or planets, most often red, blue, orange, or white in color. This represents the largest group of UFO reports.
2. Daylight discs. These are oval, metallic flying objects that are visible in the daytime. They’ve been said to disappear with astounding speed.
3. Radar-visual cases. These are significant blips on radar screens that coincide with visual reports.
4. Close Encounters of the First Kind (CE-I). This is when a UFO is within 200 yards, but it doesn’t interact with the witness or environment.
5. Close Encounters of the Second Kind (CE-II). This is when a UFO actually interacts with the environment, whether that be leaving physical evidence on the ground, on animals, or on humans.
6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE-III). Spielberg alert! This is when occupants of a UFO (humanoid or otherwise) are seen.