Are UFOs for real?

Updated July 09, 2017

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Illustration by Muhammad Faizan
Illustration by Muhammad Faizan

Exactly 70 years ago, on 8 July 1947, one of the most famous UFO sightings was reported by the press and it captivated both common folks and UFO hunters for years.

It was the Roswell incident where witnesses claimed that the US military had captured an alien aircraft. In reality, or what US military maintained, it was the debris of a surveillance device from a classified operation that was spotted by people.

But many still believe that there was some extra-terrestrial activity that day and that there are aliens out there who have visited Earth from time to time! And not just this, conspiracy theorists are firm believers that unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have landed or crashed on Earth, aliens (dead and alive) have been captured by secret agencies and all these things have been carefully hidden from people.

Others even go as far as to say that alien civilisations once lived on, or visited, Earth and helped built colossal prehistoric structures such as Stonehenge, and the monuments and giant tombs that can be seen today as remains of Incas, Aztecs, Mayan and Egyptian civilisations. Such gigantic structures would have been near impossible to build without today’s technology, they say, so all these have been the work of aliens.

Whether this is just some people’s imagination running very wild or there is some truth in this, it is very hard to say. We will help you to decide for yourself by sharing some famous UFO and alien sightings and reports, as well as the actual and official explanations for these unusual events.

Roswell, US, 1947

On July 7, 1947, about 75 miles north of Roswell, New Mexico, Mac Brazel, a rancher, discovered some strange debris on his sheep pasture. It consisted of sticks, bits of metal and a foil-like sheet that regained its structure when crumpled.

He reported it to the local sheriff, who in turn got in touch with the Roswell Army Air Force Base (RAAF). The official who was sent to investigate excitedly thought it was an extraterrestrial flying saucer. Thus, on July 8, the RAAF sent out a press release saying they had recovered a “flying disk”. This led to a media frenzy where the press reported it as a UFO wreckage. The US Air Force sought to quell speculation by stating the next day that the debris was from a weather balloon. But UFOlogists didn’t buy this.

Conclusion: As it was finally disclosed years later, what that ranger had found was debris from a highly classified project used by the US Army Air Force to detect atomic bomb tests in the Soviet Union. UFOlogists still don’t buy this.

Roswell has been described as ‘the world’s most famous, most exhaustively investigated and most thoroughly debunked UFO claim’.

Kenneth Arnold case, 1947

Kenneth Arnold can rightly be called the man whose story led to the coining of the term ‘flying saucer’. June 24, 1947, is the precise date that led to our obsession with saucers.

On this day, Kenneth Arnold, an American businessman and amateur pilot, was flying his little plane over Mineral, Washington, en route to an air show in Oregon. The skies were clear; there was a light breeze.

Near Mount Rainer, suddenly he saw a bright light — just a flash, or the glint of the sun as it hits a mirror when a glass is angled just so. It had a blue-ish tinge. And then the lights came again — this time, in a series. Nine flashes, in rapid succession.

Arnold later described the airborne objects as flying in “a diagonally stepped-down, echelon formation,” the entire assemblage “stretched out over a distance that he later calculated to be five miles.” They moved in unison and didn’t seem to be piloted.

He calculated the time it took the objects to travel between Mount Rainer and Mount Adams, a distance of about 50 miles: a minute and 42 seconds. Which meant that the objects were travelling at a rate, roughly, of 1,700 miles per hour, around three times faster than any aircraft was capable of at the time, more than twice the speed of sound.

On June 25, Arnold found himself giving an account of the encounter to a newspaper where he emphasised the words “unidentified” as much as “flying objects.” He described their movements, saying that they flew “like a saucer if you skip it across the water.”

Newspapers of the time credit Arnold with using the terms “saucer”, “disk”, and “pie-pan” in his description of the objects he’d seen. This concept captivated people so much that they too started seeing flying saucers. According to a research, there were 853 ‘flying disc’ sightings in 1947 alone — gathered from 140 newspapers from nearly every US state and Canada.

Conclusion: The objects Arnold reported “could have been mirages of several snow-capped peaks in Cascade Range.” Mirages can result from temperature inversions over several deep valleys in the line of sight. Others suggest that he probably misidentified pelicans, common in the Washington region, that “have a pale underside that can reflect light, can fly at rather high altitudes and can appear to have a somewhat crescent-shaped profile when flying.”

The great alien invasion of 1952

In July 1952, Washington, the US, was supposedly visited by multiple unidentified flying objects or UFOs over the consecutive weekends of July 19–20 and July 26–27.

The reports led to the formation of the CIA Robertson Panel.

Late on the evening of July 19, 1952, air traffic controllers at Washington National Airport spotted a curious cluster of seven blips on their radar screens. Similar blips were sighted by radar operators at Andrews and Bolling Air Force bases.

The control tower contacted commercial aircraft in the area and asked their pilots if they had seen anything unusual. Air Flight 807 radioed back that six bright lights streaking across the sky, “like falling stars without tails” were seen. F-94 jets were scrambled from Delaware’s New Castle Air Force Base, but the pilots saw nothing.

The Pentagon was already studying the escalating number of UFO sightings — under the aegis of Project Blue Book — and the Washington outbreak was added to the list. The next weekend, it happened all over again. Air traffic controllers tracked a dozen unexplained blips. Fighter jets were again sent, and on their second circuit, pilots saw bright lights speeding away from them.

Additionally, “civilian planes flying into Washington reported seeing strange glowing objects in places where the radar was getting blips.” The sightings and unknown radar returns ended at sunrise.

Conclusion: Public concern with the phenomena almost touched off mass hysteria and panic, however, the US Air Force allayed fears of an alien invasion, suggesting that changes in the temperature had caused radar signals to bend and give false returns, and the visual sightings as misidentified meteors, stars and city lights

A temperature inversion occurs when a layer of cold air is trapped under a layer of warm air. It’s most common in extremely hot weather of the sort that Washington was enduring. The warm air can create a ceiling that causes radar beams to bounce down. “Objects on the ground — moving cars, a row of telephone poles — can appear to be thousands of feet in the air. As for the lights, a layer of moisture in the atmosphere could have caused reflections,” it was explained.

The Hill abduction, 1961

On the night of September 19–20, 1961, Barney and Betty Hill, an American couple from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, claimed they were kidnapped by aliens in a rural portion of New Hampshire. It was the first widely publicised report of an alien abduction in the United States.

The Hills claimed that they saw a UFOfollowing their car as they were driving from Niagara Falls to their home, on the night of 19 September, 1961.

Barney stopped the car and, using binoculars, saw figures inside the UFO. Panicking, Barney drove away from the UFO but was blocked by 11 or 12 aliens who were approximately 5ft 4in. (1.6m) tall.

They had no ears but had slit-like mouths, small noses, cat-like eyes that seemed to extend to the side of their heads, and broad foreheads that tapered down to a small chin. The couple was taken to a nearby landed UFO.

Inside the UFO, they were taken to separate rooms and put on examination tables. One of the aliens spoke to Betty and showed her a ‘Star map’. She tried taking away a book full of strange writing, but was stopped. When Betty returned to their car, she saw Barney sitting inside it, in a kind of daze. They experienced anxiety and fears, leading them to report the incident. Even under hypnosis, the Hills maintained their story and aroused massive interest and publicity.

Conclusion: Two years later, Project Blue Book produced a final report on their sighting and claimed that there was insufficient evidence to determine what caused their sighting.

Levelland case, 1957

Drivers in and around the small town of Levelland, Texas, reported that their car engines stalled when encountering a glowing, egg-shaped object, and then mysteriously restarted again after the object had left. During the night of November 2–3, the Levelland police department received a total of 15 UFO-related reports.

The Levelland sightings received national publicity, and were soon investigated by Project Blue Book.

Conclusion: It was concluded that an electrical storm — most probably ball lightning or St. Elmo’s fire — had caused the sightings and the engine failures were blamed on wet electrical circuits.

Lonnie Zamora UFO sighting, 1964

One of the best documented UFO sightings in US history was witnessed by Socorro Police Officer Lonnie Zamora.

In late afternoon on Friday, April 24, 1964, Sergeant Zamora saw a huge, bluish-orange flame in the sky south of Socorro. He drove towards the area to investigate. The flame was accompanied by a deafening roaring sound. As Zamora drew nearer, he saw a weird, doughnut-shaped silver machine and two white-clad individuals. Zamora noted seeing landing gear and a red insignia which he later drew for authorities.

Although the pair quickly flew off, Zamora’s detailed testimony has provided one of the most comprehensive accounts of an alien encounter. It also witnessed (in flight) by five tourists travelling through Socorro.

Following the incident, many local residents visited the site and witnessed not only burned bushes but also landing gear depressions in the ground.

Conclusion: Although there have been many theories as to what Zamora saw, this mystery remains unsolved.

Rendlesham forest lights, 1980

UK’s most famous UFO event is the sighting of several unexplained lights near RAF bases at Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, over a series of nights in December 1980.

Ian Ridpath, a journalist who investigated the events summarised the main aspects as follows: “Security guards saw bright lights apparently descending into Rendlesham Forest around 3am on December 26,1980. The guards went into the forest and saw a flashing light between the trees, which they followed until they realised it was coming from a lighthouse (Orford Ness).”

“At daybreak, indentations in the ground and marks on the trees were found in a clearing. Local police and a forester identified these as rabbit scrapings and cuts made by foresters.

“Two nights later the deputy base commander, Lt Col Charles Halt, investigated the area. He took radiation readings, which were background levels. He also saw a flashing light in the direction of Orford Ness but was unable to identify it.

“Col Halt reported seeing star-like objects that twinkled and hovered for hours, like stars. The brightest of these, which at times appeared to send down beams of light, was in the direction of Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

Conclusion: At its most basic, the case comes down to the misinterpretation of a series of nocturnal lights — a fireball, a lighthouse and some stars. However, as the witnesses were on-duty servicemen, the reports were given a measure of credibility and a belief persists that the lights were from an alien spacecraft.

Published in Dawn, Young World July 8th, 2017