Newswise – “This [Tic Tac-shaped object that] had just flown 60 miles in…less than a minute, was far superior in performance to my brand new F/A-18F, and did not operate with the known aerodynamic principles we expect of objects flying in our atmosphere.”

In July 2023, retired U.S. Navy commander David Fravor testified before the House Oversight Committee about a mysterious Tic-Tac-shaped object he and three others observed over the Pacific Ocean in 2004. The congressional hearings captivated the world by bringing Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) from the realm of “alien truthers” into the mainstream.

As sensor technology has advanced and the use of private aircraft has skyrocketed, it has become increasingly difficult for us to explain strange events. The US Department of Defense increasingly views UAP, formerly known as Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), as a serious threat to national security.

A new study Led by geographers at the University of Utah, researchers are trying to determine whether local environmental factors increase or decrease the number of sighting reports. The authors used data from the National UFO Research Center, and included a total of about 98,000 sighting reports over a 20-year period, from 2001 to 2020. For each county in the contiguous U.S., researchers analyzed two conditions: sky sighting potential, which refers to the area’s light pollution, cloud cover, and tree canopy; and the possibility that objects may be present in the sky, i.e. proximity to airports and military installations.

Most sightings have been in the western United States due to the physical geography of the region – lots of wide open spaces and dark skies. UAP-reporting hotspots had credible relationships with air traffic and military activity, suggesting that people detect real objects but do not realize what they are.

“The idea is that if you have a chance to see something, you are more likely to see unexplained phenomena in the sky,” said Richard Medina, an associate professor of geography at the University of Utah and lead author of the study. “There is more technology in the sky than ever before, so the question becomes: What are people actually seeing?” This question is difficult to answer, and it is important because any uncertainty can pose a potential threat to national security.”

Understanding the environmental context of these sightings will make it easier to find explanations for their occurrence and to identify truly anomalous objects that pose a legitimate threat.

The Paper published on December 14, 2023 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Hot and cold spots

The authors examined the number of sightings per 10,000 inhabitants per district and identified significant clusters with low reporting rates (cold spots) and high reporting rates (hot spots). Far more sightings were reported in the west and far northeast along some remote areas. The cold spots were in the central plains and southeast. All results except cloud cover supported the general hypothesis that people see things when given the opportunity.

“The West has a historical relationship with the UAP – Area 51 in Nevada, Roswell in New Mexico and here in Utah we have the Skinwalker Ranch in the Uinta Basin and military activities at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground,” Medina said. “There is also a strong outdoor community that enjoys recreation on public lands year-round. People are outside looking at the sky.”

Traditional science has largely shunned UAP research due to the stigma of flying saucers and space invaders. Yet people around the world continue to discover unexplained objects in the sky. What little research there is tends to rely on first-hand accounts or seek cultural and psychological explanations, which limits the ability to analyze patterns over a wide area.

Additionally, there has been limited thorough investigation into legitimate data sources and questionable accounts. The authors note that the National UFO Research Center data is a public self-reporting system with no real way to verify false reports. However, the authors claim that there would be no spatial pattern if the data were completely invalid for psychological and sociological reasons. But there is.

“There are many factors that can contribute to the reporting of anomalous objects,” said Simon Brewer, an associate professor of geography at the U and co-author of the study. “By examining the spatial distribution of reports and their relationship to the local environment, we hope to provide geographic context that can help educate or understand reports both to the public and in military settings.”

Roswell, The X-Files and Starlink

In July 2022, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, led the establishment of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) as the single authoritative UAP office to direct and synchronize a whole-of-government approach to output. Previous UAP tracking efforts include BLUE BOOK project, a US Air Force-led project that investigated UFO sightings between 1947 and 1969. Project BLUE BOOK’s most famous report is the Roswell, New Mexico incident, which claims that a flying saucer and its alien crashed in the desert city on July 8, 1947. The occupants were recovered by government officials. Many Roswell Local residents witnessed the inexplicable event that may have led to the riot Flying Saucer Sightings that gripped the nation. The silence of government officials led to wild speculation about otherworldly visitors and subsequent cover-ups. The US Air Force later announced that the incident was caused by a secret multi-balloon project to detect Soviet nuclear tests.

Many UAP sightings have a natural explanation – for example, the planet Venus is a regular offender. There has been an increase in UAP reports in recent years, likely related to the exponential growth of spacecraft and orbiter launches, such as: B. the Starlink train of satellites racing across the night sky and the ubiquity of personal drones. The challenge is to analyze which reports indicate a real threat.

The authors examine whether there are temporal considerations for fluctuations in sightings due to sociocultural triggers. For example, were there further reports after the congressional hearings in July 2023 or after a Space X launch? They’re also looking at whether sociocultural factors influence UAP sightings – is there an increase in reports after a show like The X-Files becomes popular? Are some cultures more likely to see UAPs because of their beliefs?

The U.S. government – ​​the military, intelligence and civil authorities – must understand what is happening in the areas of impact to ensure the security of the nation and its people,” said Sean Kirkpatrick, first director of AARO and adjunct assistant professor of physics at the University of Georgia and co-author of the study. “Unknowns are unacceptable in the age of ubiquitous sensors and data availability. The scientific community has a responsibility to research and educate.”


The study entitled “An Environmental Analysis of Public UAP Sightings and Sky Viewing Potential” can be found here: Medina, RM, Brewer, SC & Kirkpatrick, SM An Environmental Analysis of Public UAP Sightings and Sky Viewing Potential. Sci Rep 1322213 (2023).

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