[This “fact sheet” was prepared in 1985. In the 27 years(!) since then, nothing has changed whatsoever as regards the scientific status of “UFO evidence.” Therefore we reproduce the old page here unchanged. We have added a new page carrying the sad story up to 2012.]

Modern Visitors From Other Worlds!

One of the best known of all pseudoscientific claims is that the planet earth is presently being visited by spacecraft from some other world. Various kinds of “evidence” are presented to back up this claim. First, it is asserted, thousands of people have seen things in the sky, which they could not identify or recognize. Second, several hundred people (called “contactees”) claim to have personally gone inside spacecraft and to have conversed with or to have been examined by the alien occupants; they offer no proof but their own testimony. Since neither reports of strange lights in the sky nor tall tales by strange people constitute valid evidence of anything, believers in this particular pseudoscience are also fond of claiming that “the government” has all the valid evidence but keeps it “top secret.” Sometimes it even is claimed that the government has hidden away crashed spaceships and the bodies of the occupants, or that the government itself has been “taken over” by aliens from another world.

Let us look at these claims in more detail. More than 90% of all sightings of “unidentified flying objects” are sightings of lights in the night sky. Furthermore, those reporting the sightings are not amateur astronomers or other people in the habit of scanning the sky every night, thus becoming familiar with what is there. Instead, they are people who have read about the wonders of “flying saucers” in a newspaper, magazine, or book, or have heard about them on radio and TV. Such people, on impulse, go out and look at the night sky— perhaps for the first time in years— and the first “unusual” thing they see becomes a flying saucer. Sometimes what is seen is described so inaccurately or vaguely that it is impossible to discover what the observer actually saw. But when it is possible to visit the scene and question the witnesses, a trained investigator can easily identify up to 95% of all sighted flying saucers as conventional objects. Where identification is not possible, it is invariably due to lack of information, not to information that cannot be “explained” conventionally. Sources of nocturnal lights which have given rise to such sightings include: planets (especially Mars and Venus) and bright stars (30% of all cases); advertising planes (20% of all cases); commercial and military aircraft (18%); bright meteors, meteor fireballs, and satellite re-entries (10%). Daylight reports of flying saucers are much rarer; they are almost always due to aircraft or weather balloons. Evidence that such sightings are due simply to the focusing of public interest on the sky (rather than being due to what is actually present in the sky) is provided by the so-called “Saucer Flaps,” periods when large numbers of reports come in within a very short time. (The reports stir more people to go out and look; the more people that look, the more reports that come in.)

The first flap occurred in the summer of 1947, after extensive newspaper publicity concerning the very first of all flying saucer sightings, by Kenneth Arnold near Mt. Rainier in June. The second and largest of all flaps occurred in the summer of 1952 following a Life magazine article (April 1952), which heavily favored the hypothesis that flying saucers were spacecraft from another world. Other flaps occurred in the fall and winter of 1957 (after the Russians launched the first earth satellite, Sputnik I); 1965-66, a period when there was  very heavy, almost continuous media publicity concerning flying saucers and contactee claims; the fall of 1969 (after the first manned moon landing); August 1973 (after a TV show publicizing von Däniken’s “ancient astronauts”); and the summer of 1979 (another wave of media publicity). Sightings of flying saucers dropped to almost nothing during most of the period 1968-70, when the U.S. was deeply divided internally over the conduct of the war in Vietnam. The U.S. Air Force, which had routinely investigated sightings since 1947, took advantage of this lull to terminate its Project Blue Book and officially abandoned all interest in flying saucers.

During the official investigation of flying saucer sightings, there were three independent reviews of all the most impressive sightings to that date by panels of distinguished scientists. The first was done by the “Robertson Panel” in 1953. The second was a scientific review of Project Blue Book in March 1966. The third and last was the Condon Study conducted at the University of Colorado in 1968. There have been several other unofficial scientific studies of flying saucer reports, including a symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in December 1969. All such studies have come to the same fairly obvious conclusion:  there is not a shred, not the tiniest fragment, of hard physical evidence that the planet earth has ever been visited by a vehicle or other spacecraft manufactured on another world or piloted by creatures from another world.

Paul Trent, 1950, a photo legendary among UFOlogists.

George J. Stock, 1952, a photo universally ignored by UFOlogists.

Since the fall of 1966, aviation and space writer Philip J. Klass has had a standing offer of $10,000 to anyone who can provide any meaningful evidence that the earth has been or is being visited by alien spacecraft; he still has his money. [Update: he still had his money when he died at the age of 85 in August of 2005.] Tabloid newspapers such as the National Enquirer have made similar offers; no evidence has come forth. Could it be that no evidence exists?

It should be stressed that scientists find nothing offensive, disturbing, or impossible about the idea of visitors from other planets. In fact, it is scientists themselves, with a bit of help from science fiction writers, who have done the most to convince the general public that such a thing is indeed within the realm of the possible. But there is a big difference between something being possible and something actually taking place! Scientists must point out that there is no evidence of any kind, whatsoever that such visits have ever happened.

The “contactees” (people claiming to have met and talked to alien visitors) are perhaps more baffling than lights in the night sky, but perhaps less baffling when one sees how their bank balances increase after their claims are publicized. The first and best known of all contactees, George Adamski, went from being a dishwasher in a hamburger stand to millionaire status within a few years of the publication of his first book of “revelations” gleaned from telepathic conversations with “Masters of Wisdom” from Venus and Saturn. Adamski’s first score (or so) of imitators have had varying degrees of success. The better-known ones such as Betty Hill have also become at least moderately wealthy from sales of books based on their “experiences.” None of these people offer any evidence of any kind that their reported experiences ever took place. Over the years the friendly encounters with wise and helpful, completely human-appearing “space brothers” have gradually been replaced by frightening “kidnappings” by sinister, enigmatic and completely non-human-appearing space aliens— but all the encounters very transparently occur only in the dreams or imaginations of the “victims.”

Reports of crashed flying saucers, to date, have all been hoaxes. The earliest report, from 1949, was contained in a joke article written by newspaper editor George Bawra, about a saucer crash-landing in Aztec, NM. Bawra's account, in turn, led to a much more elaborate hoax perpetrated on show business writer Frank Scully by two con men who were trying to drum up business for their oil-drilling scam, in the course of which they bilked hundreds of thousands of dollars out of farmers and ranchers all over the Southwest, and who were ultimately sent to prison.

What was the connection between crashed saucers and oil rights swindles?  The con-men's oil-finding “equipment” was supposedly taken from the crashed saucers! They told Scully details of three saucer smashups, two supposed to have occurred in Arizona and one in Aztec, NM. Scully's account of the story was published in book form as Behind the Flying Saucers in 1950. Nobody ever attached any of these myths to Roswell, NM until 1980!

Many photographs and even movies of alleged “flying saucers” exist. A few show obvious natural phenomena: a milling flock of seagulls, the rising moon, and distant aircraft. The majority, however, display images that could readily have been fabricated by a 10-year-old child (and in some cases were fabricated by 10-year-old children!). There is not a single photograph from all the thousands of sightings of unidentified flying objects since 1947 that provides evidence that anyone has photographed any actual flying object not previously known to science. [Still true as of spring 2011, 64 years later!]

Claims that real evidence does exist, but is kept top secret, cannot be taken seriously. How can anyone seriously believe that any government agency could have successfully kept such a secret for 64 years— through twelve different presidential administrations? Jimmy Carter, in particular, was alleged at one time to be a firm “believer” in flying saucers, but he certainly found no evidence in the archives of any governmental agency— open or secret— to support his beliefs. Could it be that no such evidence exists? “Believers” in the House and Senate have similarly probed for that “secret evidence,” finding precisely nothing. [Since Carter, five more presidential administrations have come and four have gone, and 30 more years have passed. Still no evidence.]

One of the most characteristic features of the UFO/flying saucer phenomenon was the regularly recurrent flaps. These were periods when large numbers of UFO sightings were reported over a fairly short time interval. There were 8 flaps in the 40 years between 1947 and 1987, occurring very rougly at 5 year intervals. There have been none since. Indeed, since about 2000, flaps have become impossible. They depended on nearly complete news-media saturation with UFO claims and craziness over a brief period, which triggered mass attention-focussing on ordinary sky phenomena. But media have become so fractured and fractionated in the past decade or two that no single news outlet (network TV news, cable TV news, local TV news, newspapers, local or network radio, internet news sources, brainless bloggers) has any significant fraction of the audience.

When asked what he thought about flying saucers, back in the 1960s, the great physicist Richard Feynman replied, “It is much more likely that the flying saucer sightings are the result of the well-known irrational characteristics of terrestrial intelligence, instead of the completely unknown rational efforts of extraterrestrial intelligence. It is just more likely, that is all.” The idea that the earth is now being visited by wise and benevolent beings from other worlds is a very attractive one; it is a pseudoscientific rewrite of the ancient religious theme of intervention by gods in human affairs. It is an attractive and not impossible idea, but it is unquestionably not a fact.

Follow the rest of the sad story, up to 2012, here.







Godman AFB, Kentucky

Pilot Mantell chased UFO, got too close, plane crashed.

UFO was Skyhook balloon, then secret. Mantell flew too high without oxygen.5,6,7


Eastern Airlines; Georgia

Pilots Chiles & Whitted saw cigar-shape with windows pass near their airliner.

Descriptions match that given by witnesses to re-entry of Zond IV in 1968; C & W saw meteor. 2,6


Fargo, North Dakota

Pilot Gorman has dogfight with lit UFO at night.

All events duplicated by having pilots chase lighted balloon.5,7


Farmington, New Mexico

Hundreds of tumbling UFOs drift by many witnesses.

Observers saw blowing fragments of disintegrated Skyhook balloon.3,7


McMinnville, Oregon

Mr. & Mrs. Paul Trent photograph flying saucer in their back yard.

Pie-plate saucer; story of event contains inconsistencies.1,6


Tremonton, Utah

Navy photographer Newhouse gets telephoto movies of “milling UFOs.”

Identified as birds; similar behavior of birds readily observable any time in this area.6

Sept. 1957

Ubatuba, Brazil

Saucer seen to explode, fragments recovered, found of “nonterrestrial origin.”

Hoax; fragments match samples readily available from Dow Chemical.6


Vandenberg AFB, California

Rocket-tracking cameras photograph UFO.

UFO was planet Venus, readily visible through a telescope in daylight.6


Santa Ana, California

Traffic investigator Rex Heflin photographs saucer.

Obvious hoax. UFO suspended from string just outside truck window.6

Sept. 1965

Exeter, New Hampshire

Many citizens see hovering silvery object(s).

UFO was planet Jupiter.1

Dec.-Jan. 1978

New Zealand

T.V. news people film intensely-lit UFO.

UFOs filmed included ground lights, brilliantly lit boats of Japanese squid-fishing fleet, and planet Venus.1

Late Aug. 1984

Brewster, New York

Huge objects seen, V-shaped or circular, bearing many green, red and white lights.

Deliberate Hoax by Stormville, New York, private pilots flying in extremely close formation.10 A similar but non-deliberate incident occurred in Arizona in 1997.

Make your own UFO photos, kids! Just follow these simple instructions, or if you prefer, these. It's also neato-keen to modify existing photos, especially from NASA, like this! And, don't forget lens flares. But the simplest approach is usually the best, as seen here.


References, and works for further reading—

1. The UFO Verdict: Examining the Evidence, Robert Sheaffer, Prometheus, New York, 1979.

2. UFOs Explained, Philip J. Klass, Random House, New York, 1974.

3. The UFO Handbook, Allan Hendry, Doubleday, New York, 1979.

4. UFOs, A Scientific Debate, Ed. by Carl Sagan and Thornton Page, Cornell, New York, 1972.

5. The World of Flying Saucers, D.H. Menzel and L.G. Boyd, Doubleday, New York, 1963.

6. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects (The Condon Report), Bantam, New York, 1969.

7. Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, E. J. Ruppelt, Doubleday, New York, 1959.

8. “Flying Saucers 30 Years On,” Ian Ridpath, New Scientist, July 14, 1977.

9. “The Failure of the Science of UFOlogy,” James Oberg, New Scientist, October 11, 1979.

10. “The Great Hudson Valley UFO Mystery,” Glenn Garlik, Discover, November 1984, pp. 18-24.

Additional references—
  • Watch the Skies! by Curtis Peebles, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, 1994.
  • UFO Sightings, by Robert Sheaffer, Prometheus, NY, 1998.
  • • “Unidentified Flying Objects,” by Robert Sheaffer, in Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, ed. by Gordon Stein, Prometheus, NY, 1996, pp. 767–779.
  • Shockingly Close to the Truth, by James W. Moseley and Karl T. Pflock, Prometheus, NY, 2002.
  • UFOs on the WWW:

    There is almost nothing whatsoever to be found today on the Internet discussing flying saucers and UFOs from a factual viewpoint. Here are a few articles by the late aerospace writer Philip Klass. | Here is an older article on UFO-based religious cults. | UFO pages by British science-writer Ian Ridpath | A good site covering so-called UFOs in Renaissance European art is here. | Another rare fact-based UFO website: here. | The Condon report online. | A brief but good summary of UFO history, done for the Centennial of Flight | A very recent (January 2007) UFO sighting, and the very simple explanation! | An easily-identified UFO orbiting the moon! | The flying rods ufo hoax circa 2000 | An amateur astronomer's thoughts on UFO nonsense. | An interview with UFO researcher Philip Klass, toward the end of his life. | Timetable of the evolution of UFO mythology | A 1997 UFO sighting for which the explanation has been known for 10 years, was typically revived as “completely mysterious, completely unsolved” by CNN in March of 2007. | An astronomer's personal collection of very strange but easily understood UFO photos | A brief history of FATE Magazine, the only surviving publication founded by “the man who invented flying saucers,” Ray Palmer. | Best UFO photos, 1870 to 2011 inclusive; get ready to be disappointed.
    Some Additional Links:

    The complex 1980 Rendlesham, England flying saucer "crash landing" may have been in part a double hoax. However, Ian Ridpath's detailed findings concerning the famous case are summarized here, with the hoax issue addressed here. The Darbyshire photo was part of a famous British UFO hoax of the mid-1950s, relating to the claims of George Adamski. Ray Palmer claimed from 1947 until his death to be "the man who invented the flying saucer." There's some reason to think he might be right. Read about his antics here. Then there's the Fundamentalist Theory of flying saucers... they're from Hell! A British amateur astronomer's web-pages in which he presents results of his analysis of four famous UFO photos or movies: Rouen (1954?), Trindade (1958), Hawaii (1989) and Nellis (1994). He correctly identifies the aircraft shown in three of the photos or movies, but is stumped by the Rouen hoax photo, because it shows not an aircraft, but rather a fabricated model. He also presents four of his own “IFO” sightings, in which an astonishing-appearing UFO turned out to be readily identifiable.

    Science fiction editor Ray Palmer claimed to be "the man who invented flying saucers," and there's pretty good evidence his claim was correct.

    Avoiding Facing Death!
    Blavatsky, Queen of Pseudoscience!
    Cities on the Moon?
    Creationism and “Intelligent Design”
    Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience!
    ESP Experiments
    Flying Saucers (1947–1985)
    Fortean Phenomena
    The Fourth Dimension!?
    Gods from Outer Space!
    Interstellar Travellers!
    Kirlian Photos and the Aura!
    Martian Canals!
    Monsters! and Ape Suits!
    Mystery Spots?
    Mystical and Bogus Physics!
    The New Age!
    Postmodernism versus Science!
    Pyramid and Crystal Myths and Powers!
    Medical Quackery!
    Psychic Detectives!
    Pyramid and Crystal Powers!
    Science Fiction and Pseudoscience!
    Our Space Brothers!
    UFOs 1985-2005

    Ruth Norman, leader of one of the longest-lived UFO-based religous cults, Unarius, 1955 to the present!