The UFO debate usually focuses on official reports that go back years or decades — but strange things are still being seen in the sky, by folks just like you.
The years-old reports are the subject of dueling commentaries by NBC News space analyst James Oberg and Leslie Kean, author of the book "UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record." Others are weighing in as well, including a colleague of mine at LiveScience, Robert Roy Britt, who calls this a "classic UFO battle." Such battles have been fought inconclusively over stories ranging from the 1947 Roswell incident (which gets only a passing mention in Kean's book) to the 2006 O'Hare incident (which merits an entire chapter).
But what about your stories?
Over the years, Cosmic Log correspondents have sent in oodlesofstories, not only about UFOs but about alienencounters as well. And the stories are piling up at the Mutual UFO Network, the National UFO Reporting Center, the National UFO Center and other ufological outfits.
One of the more recent cases to make the news involved a Texas hunter named Lisa Brock-Piekarski, who noticed some spooky lights that appeared to hover in the background of a night-vision image snapped by a game-tracking camera. Could this be a follow-up to the Stephenville UFO sightings of 2008? For a while, some thought so. But MUFON investigators eventually figured out that it was a camera glitch: The shutter stayed open long enough to catch a ghostly image of the infrared strobe's LED lgihts.
That's one more UFO case closed, but there are thousands of other cases out there — and not every one gets attention from investigators. Which means there are always a lot of strange sightings out there that you'll never hear about. So what's the best way to handle your own strange sightings?
First, be aware that common objects can look uncommonly strange under the right conditions. It may sound ridiculous to suggest that Venus or Jupiter can be mistaken for flying spaceships, but there's a perceptual trick known as the "autokinetic effect" that can make stationary objects in the sky appear to move. (Space.com's Joe Rao wrote about this last month.) Another effect, known as pareidolia, can make indistinct objects (like the Face on Mars) look as if they have a distinctive shape.
Atmospheric phenomena ranging from lenticular clouds to sundogs have been perceived as unidentified flying objects, as have aircraft and rocket boosters. Even floating Chinese lanterns and whipped-up wind turbines have triggered alien alarm bells. Meteor fireballs have also sparked UFO reports. As a matter of fact, reports of a meteor-style impact in Colombia are currently stirring up a buzz on the Internet.
Kean points out that at least 95 percent of all unidentified flying objects are eventually identified. That's why it's important to get the details right when you experience a strange sighting. Here are some of the viewing tips we've talked about in the past:
- Take pictures, but don't try to enhance your images after the fact.
- Ask other folks in the area to take note of what they've seen, and compare notes.
- Make an accurate log of times and locations — which is becoming an easier task in this world of mobile phones equipped with GPS and clocks.
- If your sighting is spectacular (or scary), contact local news media or file a report with the UFO centers mentioned above. But chances are that the police won't be able to do much unless a crime has been committed (such as an abduction, alien or otherwise).
Is there a mysterious sighting you've just been waiting to get off your chest? Or is there a UFO mystery you were able to solve? Either type of story is welcome here. Feel free to discuss it in your comments below.