2011 was a year of weird news, and sitting on the cusp of 2012, it's time to look back on the odd year that was — as well as look ahead to a year that promises a new level of strangeness.
Monster sightings in 2011: Researchers looking in Siberia for the yeti — the Asian version of North America's Bigfoot — claimed in October to have found "indisputable proof" of the long-sought mystery beast. The Russian team, which included several American scientists, located some odd footprints, as well as some gray hairs in a cave. About a month later, a member of the expedition, biologist John Bindernagel, claimed his group found even more evidence, including nests and shelters made of tree branches twisted together. However, another member of the same group reported finding evidence of hoaxing and branded the whole expedition a publicity stunt.
2011 was also the year that the mystery of the chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast, was solved, after some 15 years of mystery. DNA testing on dead "chupacabras" found in Texas and elsewhere revealed them to be mostly dogs and coyotes afflicted with mange, and the legendary creature's origin was traced back to a 1995 monster movie instead of any real-life encounter. [ Is It Illegal to Kill a 'Chupacabra'? ]
Monsters to look for in 2012: Will the yeti footprints and hair samples finally reveal the truth? If the claims made by the Russian expedition are not hype or hoax, then perhaps the world will finally get definitive proof of the long-rumored creature. Surely after so many decades of ambiguous sightings and searches, hard evidence of Bigfoot or the yeti is long overdue. As for the chupacabra, people in North America and elsewhere will continue to find mangy dogs and coyotes and assume the unfortunate beasties are chupacabras.
Doomsday predictions made in 2011: The year began on an ominous note when fundamentalist Harold Camping, leader of the ministry Family Radio Worldwide, concluded after careful study of the Bible that the world would end May 21. The announcement made national news, and concerned many believers. Camping and his followers were embarrassed when May 21 came and went without a hitch, and he eventually admitted there must have been a miscalculation somewhere. Camping moved the date back a few months, concluding that October was the real month Armageddon would begin. That doomsday date came and went, as well, and the only thing destroyed was Camping's credibility.
Doomsdays to prepare for in 2012: The upcoming year is certain to bring more concerns about doomsdays and apocalypse — not necessarily from Bible-thumping evangelicals but (supposedly) from the ancient Mayans, whose calendar "ends" next year. Some New Agers think the world will end along with the end of the Mayan calendar cycle; others believe a new age of global peace and harmony will emerge. For other groups, the concern isn't so much the calendar date but a collision between Earth and the mysterious (and nonexistent) planet Niburu. Of course, people have been predicting doomsdays for millennia, and while nary one has come to pass, one day, sooner or later, the prognosticators will be right. [Does Howard Camping Foresee the World Ending in 2012?]
UFOs and aliens spotted in 2011: The summer of 2011 was an especially busy period for UFO sightings, according to an organization that tracks such reports. The Mutual UFO Network noted that sightings in some states more than doubled their usual numbers. The group could not explain the apparent increase, saying that it could be real, or possibly just a computer error.
As the reports of sightings soared, so did the lights in the skies. In early October more than a dozen strange lights were seen over the northern Utah city of Washington Terrace just after 11:30 p.m. They emitted a strange, fiery glow as they headed north at an estimated speed of about 70 mph, according to one eyewitness. The lights puzzled the public and police and had the UFO community buzzing. Finally, students at the local Bonneville High School admitted they had launched 16 lit Chinese lanterns that night; the lanterns had been reported as UFOs.
Even close-up views of alien spaceships proved to be of something else. That was the case of a "flying saucer" spotted being hauled down a main street in a Kansas town ; it turned out to be a (comparatively mundane) military spy plane.
UFOs and aliens to look out for in 2012: There's some reason to believe UFO sightings will continue at the same rate, or even increase, through 2012. UFO reports historically occur in clusters or “flaps." And reports could be on the rise because more and more people carry cellphones with built-in cameras, making it easier than ever to report a potential sighting.
A few sightings tend to encourage even more sightings. Will extraterrestrials finally make their presence clearly known, landing on the White House lawn or staying still long enough to get some clear, sharp photos or videos? That's been the hope and promise of UFO believers for decades now.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.