Government Secrets and Alien Skies: Unraveling the Mysteries of UFO Sightings and Abductions

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications (September 2023), three researchers from the University of Cambridge, University of Queensland, and the University of Sydney have confirmed that humans are hard-wired to make sense of everything and the world through a complex process scientifically known as Bayesian inference, in which the brains utilize prior knowledge and combine it with new evidence to produce intelligent guesswork. According to Karl E. Weick, the American psychologist credited as a pioneer of organizational studies, sense-making is an ongoing mental activity that tries to interpret or rationalize everything in such a way we can believe or accept. It is a train of thought to make plausible justifications despite the possibility and risk of inaccuracy. And throughout human history, we have reached a point where we can agree that looking through a scientific lens is an effective way to make sense of the universe. In this blog, we will unravel the mysteries of UFO Sightings and Abductions!

Mysteries of UFO Sightings and Abductions

For cases of UFOs and alien abduction stories, sense-making certainly plays an enormous factor in determining the plausibility of the reported events. In the United States alone, there have been quite a lot of such reports with varying degree of details, from quick indeliberate glance at saucer-like flying objects and radar detection of unidentified aircraft showing technological capabilities beyond scientific understanding to vivid recollection of abduction by humanoid figures and elaborate account of a trip with extraterrestrial species. With mounting reports and no satisfactory explanations from the authorities, rumors of government cover-up have been a persistent talking-point among ufologists since the 1940s.

Although Kenneth Arnold might not be the first to report UFO sighting, his story about seeing strange-looking aircraft in the sky of Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947 became the starting point of government’s seriousness in dealing with the subjects and triggered public’s greater curiosity about extraterrestrial encounter. About two weeks later, the widespread media coverage of possible alien spacecraft crash landing in Roswell inflamed an already tense discussion and ignited the suspicion of government cover-up. UFO hysteria was on.

Arnold saw not one peculiar aircraft, but nine strange objects flying in a long chain; eight of them appeared to resemble convex shape, whereas the other one was a crescent. His description of the objects led to the popular use of the term “flying saucer.” Further analysis, based on his recollection of the sightings, indicated that those objects were flying at a speed of more than 2,650km/h – far exceeding the then record-holder P-80. Arnold was an experienced pilot with over 9,000 hours of flying time; it was a high-profile claim among a barrage of similar reports over the coming years and one that prompted the government to launch Project Blue Book.

Another credible report was from the United Airlines crew who claimed to have witnessed a gray metallic object hovering over Gate C17 at O’Hare International Airport on November 7, 2006. At least 12 employees saw the strange aircraft for five minutes before it flew straight upward, tearing a hole through the cloud. Few witnesses outside the airport also spotted the object. Project Blue Book categorized the incident as unexplained.

On November 14, 2004, Navy Cmdr. David Fravor and Lt. Cmdr. Alex Dietrich along with their weapons system officers detected multiple anomalous aircraft off the coast of Southern California. Fravor said the objects descended 80,000 feet in under a second. There has been no official conclusion about what they were.

As for alien abduction report, nothing comes close to the elaborate story of Betty and Barney Hill of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The couple claimed to have encountered and been abducted by extraterrestrial creatures on the night of September 19, 1961. Following their report, a series of follow-up hypnosis sessions with Massachusetts-based psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon revealed interesting details about the couple being subjected to various experiments on a spaceship. Betty could even sketch the alien’s appearance.
Mysteries of UFO Sightings and Abductions

At least two separate studies by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Waterloo about the psychology behind stories of alien abduction have come to the same conclusion: sleep paralysis. When people are dreaming, the body sets itself into a full paralysis to prevent injury-inducing movements like kicking or jumping out of bed. It is a common condition that affects just about everyone. Sleep paralysis happens when people are awakened from a dream before the paralysis goes away completely, leading to hallucination commonly filled with images of unknown figures and flashing lights. At the moment, sleep paralysis is the best explanation of alien abduction science can offer. It is the intelligent guesswork if actual aliens and UFOs are ruled out of the equation.

UFO sightings present their own challenges from scientific perspective, and even more so when the reports come from credible individuals like military pilots and flight crew. As per The New York Times story about Project Blue Book, our mere mortal scientists seem to have come closer to understanding the physics and technology of some of the reported UFOs according to interviews and documents acquired from the AATIP (Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program). The government remains secretive about any new investigation and finding.

We think the simple explanation that aliens do visit Earth and make contact with humans might end all speculations, but there is the obvious lack of cold-hard evidence to support to idea. It is also possible that, to make sense of all purported encounters with extraterrestrial species, the public is kept in the dark about the truth by the authorities – such as the government and military – because of the precarious nature of the subject.

Other things you might want to know:

Why isn’t NASA involved in the investigation?

NASA was never directly involved in any investigation into UFO sightings and possible extraterrestrial encounter in the past, but things are different today. In June 2022, the agency announced the creation of an independent program to study the issue. The program currently focuses on identifying all the available data from civilians, companies, and nonprofit organizations and the government and determining the best method to analyze them.

What has the government said so far?

The Preliminary Assessment report (2021) produced by the Office of The Director of National Intelligence says that UFOs (now known as Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena or UAP) might be identified as any of the following:

Airborne Clutter, which may include recreational UAVs, airborne debris, balloons, and birds.

  • Natural Atmospheric Phenomena, such as thermal fluctuations, ice crystals, and moisture that may affect radar systems.
  • Government or Industry Developmental Programs, for example vehicles built or engineered in classified programs whether by the government or private entities.
  • Foreign Adversary Systems developed by China, Russia, or other nations
  • Other, a category for the unexplained.

What is the latest government report?

The latest follow-up report by DNI in 2023 included 366 more UFO sightings since the preliminary assessment was published two years earlier. More than half of them showed unremarkable characteristics, whereas 171 sightings appeared to have unusual flight and performance capabilities; 163 were described as balloons (or balloon-like), 26 were labelled as drones, and six were categorized as drones.

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