Are UFOs real? Well, it all depends on what you mean by unidentified flying objects. Obviously there are things that seem to fly in the sky that we can't quite make out - but are they Frisbee disks or flying saucers, neurological glitches or interdimensional visitors? Last week we ran an update on the state of "scientific" ufology, and received scores of sighting reports in response. Read on for details on some of the mysterious questions and not-so-mysterious answers.
Ed: "UFOs are real. I still remember the one over Hempstead, Long Island, on a Friday in 1966 that I thought was a helicopter when I first saw it in the night sky. But it moved left and right too quickly, so I figured it was another Grumman's, Republic's or Fairchild-Hiller's test flight. Saturday morning it was a saucer photograph on the front page of the Long Island Press. Sunday the front page printed a retraction, along with a statement by the Air Force (fast, aren't they?).
"Why would a press photographer snap a clear shot (large, close and not fuzzy) and then deny it? It was a UFO, but just that, Unidentified (but it looked just like a flying saucer). I have also seen 'swamp gas' in northern New Jersey that looked like a ball of fire with a tail about 5 times longer than the ball's diameter, but there was no swamp nearby, just farms. And I read in the local N.J. papers about the Passaic cops chasing one along the river in the '70s when I lived there. Are they spacecraft? The cops didn't know either. Your guess is as good as mine."
Curt: "I was a 12-year-old amateur astronomer during the spring of 1958. The previous Christmas I had been given my first telescope, a nifty 3-inch reflector. I awoke one warm midnight and went to kitchen to get a glass of milk. I took a look out the kitchen screen door to peer at the southern sky and was stunned to see a bright white point of light, brighter than any star, halfway up from the horizon. I knew it could not be Venus, which is never out at midnight. I ran to my closet and retrieved my telescope. I speedily set it up in the yard. As I brought the UFO into focus my heart started racing. There in the field of view appeared a huge elliptically shaped mother ship, surrounded by four small scout vessels! Sweat quickly began dripping from my brow. My great excitement lasted for about a dozen seconds. Then it mellowed into the gentler emotion of joy upon realization that I had 'discovered' Jupiter and its four large satellites.
"Go outside this evening and look toward the southern sky. You'll see the same thing. It's awesome. Acceptance and understanding of nature's marvels can enrich us far more than insistence that fanciful conjectures by default must be the true explanations."
Al Berry: "I am e-mailing to tell you a simple thing that I saw in 1953. I was 13 years old then, and I was picking apples off a tree in Lynn, MA. My younger brother, who was 9 at the time, was with me. I happened to look across the street up over a large oak tree and saw what looked like a full moon. Same size and shape, but appeared unusually close. While I was staring at it, I said to my brother, 'Look at that moon.' Before he had a chance, it went what looked like straight backward into a point of light and was gone. No flashing lights, no sound or any of that junk. Just plain gone, I can see it in my mind just like it was an hour ago. Clear night, no wind, no explanation. I have told a few friends about it but never anyone else, and I know what I saw. Have you had any other people see anything similar? Let me know."
Jeff Powell: "I don't know what they are, but I have seen a saucer-shaped UFO myself, in March '05. I was skeptical until then, but now there is no doubt in my mind that they exist. What made it even more interesting is that it left after being encountered by a very high-speed jet. The sighting was over Afton Mountain in Virginia on my way home from work about 5:30 p.m. The sunset was glistening off the bottom of the saucer like it reflects off water."
James Carbary: "I do believe that UFOs are real, and I have two reasons for this belief.
"1) I have seen natural phenomena that could be mistaken for a UFO, including Venus, swamp gas, an asteroid that passed through the earth's atmosphere, and traveled back out into space ... and two actual bona fide UFOs during broad daylight in great viewing conditions, with multiple witnesses, without actually having searched intentionally for a UFO.
"2) The statistical probability that there would be so many UFO sightings, throughout history I might add, without there actually being any UFOs in existence, is very minute to say the least. Some of the sightings have to be real occurrences of actual objects.
"The problem we face is that the U.S. government, and many governments worldwide over the years, have used the issue of UFOs to hide secret testing programs, perpetrated scams designed to confuse the public, and have used plausible deniability to cover their tracks. So we are faced with the problem of sorting the facts from the invented sightings (hoaxes perpetrated by unknown agents) which are seeded among the population to perpetuate and feed the hoax machine our government created.
"If we are truly going to solve the UFO riddle, we need a common standard, and scientific method, in order to be able to analyze the data and sort out the truths from the untruths. Why not a common worldwide standard for reporting the sightings that can be quantified and studied using a common set of rules, like the 802.11b wireless standard, created by a standards board? It would lend quite a bit of credibility to the subject and help separate the hype from the bunk, and give everyone something to agree on, a ruler to measure by, so to speak. Take it seriously, form a standards committee, come up with a set of rules and standards to use, and study the sightings in the serious light of day under scientific scrutiny.
"If that does not clear up the matter, at least we will be able to honestly say, 'We do not know what it is, so it is therefore an unknown object or natural phenomena.' This would be much more palatable than testosterone-pumped self-styled 'experts' further muddying the waters with their 'expert opinions.'
Jeff Capron: "Sure, UFO's are real. Every day I see four or five UFO's. I am pretty sure that if I investigated, I would find out that they are aircraft landing at the local airport.
"I think the better question would be: Are E.T.s visiting the earth in crafts that we call 'UFOs' real?
"To this I would guess mostly no. Sure, there may have been a few, but there is no way to tell. I cannot begin to recount how many times I have had people swear to me that Venus / an airplane / a falling star / [insert normal skyward entity here] was a UFO while I am looking right at it and know exactly what it is. This is just in my circle of friends.
"When I was a child, I wanted to believe in Santa Claus so much that I swore I saw him fly by the house and land on the roof. Is this evidence that Santa Claus exists? Of course not, but unfortunately, that same 'data' is accepted by 'ufologists' across the globe as proof of UFOs.
"Give me E.T.'s finger on a plate, show me clear video of a spaceship landing and probing sleeping victims, or wreckage from a drunk-driving alien, and then it would be possible to at least make a hypothesis."
Ray: "In the context of the description, of course there are UFOs (or Unidentified Flying Objects). In the year 1980, my family and I were firsthand witnesses to something we just couldn't identify. We had a large glowing oval object (about the size of our house) suddenly stop and hover about 75 yards from us over our back yard. Nothing out of the ordinary happened as far as the encounter, just a lot of ooh's and aaah's from my brothers and sisters, and a little anxiety on the part of my mother, as that's what mothers do.
"After a period of about five minutes, the object sped away toward the horizon at a terrific rate of speed and then up into the atmosphere. At the rate it was going, it should have broken the sound barrier, but it didn't. (Even though I was in my teens, I had grown up with jets flying over the neighborhood in my childhood and was very familiar with sonic booms. They have laws against that now, I believe.)
"Now as to what this thing was, we never quite got the answer on that. The town I was living in at the time was Sundance, Wyoming. (If someone happens to look up the incident, they should try checking the Sundance paper for 1979 and 1980.) Most of the town saw the object, but a lot of people saw it on the move and just figured it was a meteor.
"Was it gas? Was it ball lightning? I really don't know. I can't imagine ball lightning being the size that it was, or gas traveling at those speeds. (Even the best bean burritos can't generate gas power on that level!) Anyways, whatever we saw remains unidentified at the moment, so it definitely still fits the description of a UFO."
Ken Smith, Tennessee: "Yes, I believe they are real. I actually believe that I have seen some back in the 1950s. I am a retired electrical engineer and I really believe that what I saw as flying disks way up in the sky were UFOs. The disks were elliptical in shape and flying in circles at unbelievable speeds. We do not even have anything flying today that could rival the speed of the disks."
In addition to the sighting reports (or solution reports), some correspondents waxed philosophical. Here's a smattering of those big-picture observations:
Freddie: "As just one example, the Native Americans fell prey to man's conquering ways. If aliens do show up, I hope they are more understanding than we have been toward each other. I sometimes wonder if all this 'e-mail to space' is such a good idea. Nothing like waving a flag, and getting conquered for your effort."
Richard Youngs, Yuma, Ariz.: "Count the number of known objects in the heavens. Then ask yourself the question: 'Is there any possible way that we are alone?'"
Kenneth: "... If, and I do mean if, there is life along our lines out there, it would be so far away that to us it really does not exist. Or it could have come and gone. I would find it more believable that if we had or are being 'visited,' it would be us or those in the future going back in time, as if on a history field trip."
Harold M. Gott: "Is there life out there in space? Consider this idea. I live near Grand Mesa, Colorado. On top of this mesa are several hundred lakes. I've fished and caught fish in a few of those lakes. Some are rainbow trout, some are cutthroat, some are browns. Am I to believe that the only lakes with fish in them, out of the several hundred on the mesa, are the three or four lakes I've fished? Are those three lakes the only ones in the USA - or the world - that have fish in them? Are those three species of fish the only kind in the world? What a narrow-minded approach that would be. At some point in the maybe distant (maybe not so distant?) future, I'm certain intelligent life will be discovered out there (somewhere) and contact made with it. I'm an old man now and will never live to see my prediction, but I feel certain some future generations will indeed see it happen."
Do you think the search for life beyond Earth will turn up any firm evidence in your lifetime, whether it's microbes on Mars or Enceladus, or beacons from Beta Pictoris? Feel free to add your comments on aerial anomalies, or on the step-by-step search for extraterrestrial life.