By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Reports of UFOs in the United States predate the Wright Brothers. Whether these aerial objects are manmade or extraterrestrial in origin, they fuel pop culture, conspiracy theories, and fringe beliefs. An upcoming U.S. government report isn’t expected to confirm alien life.
Unidentified flying objects (UFOs) have captured our imaginations for centuries. Technically, any airborne object that can’t be plainly identified, whether a weather balloon or homemade rocket, is an unidentified flying object, likely causing countless sightings in modern times.
However, UFOs are often associated with intelligent alien life, resulting in elaborate hoaxes as well as chilling abduction claims. A new report by the U.S. government on the subject is expected to be released this month, though those debriefed on it say not to expect any major revelations.
In his video series How Science Shapes Science Fiction, Dr. Charles L. Adler, Professor of Physics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said the history of UFO sightings is well storied.
Disk Craze Continues
“There was a wave of ‘airship sightings’ in the American West starting in 1896; people apparently looked in the skies and saw some sort of strange thing that they interpreted as balloons, heavier-than-air flying machines, or even as alien spacecraft,” Dr. Adler said. “This was about a decade before the first flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903.
“However, speculation about flying airships abounded during those times.”
For example, Dr. Adler cited a popular Jules Verne book, Robur the Conqueror, which was published in English in 1887 and detailed a man who flew in an airship powered by rotors similar to modern-day helicopters. Having airships on the brain could have lead to many claims of sightings back then, but another natural occurrence added confusion more recently.
“Lenticular, or wave clouds, can form when warm air rushing up the side of a mountain suddenly cools at the top, condensing out the vapor,” Dr. Adler said. “They can seem to move very rapidly and have characteristic saucer or cigar shapes. In June 2015, the Houston Chronicle reported that there were 56 UFO sightings reported in Texas that turned out to be clouds, in one month alone.”
Other incorrectly labeled objects have included weather balloons, low-flying aircraft, and the planet Venus.
Klaatu Barada Nikto
Obviously, no claims of alien abduction have ever been concretely verified as fact. Several hoaxes have been exposed, while others will remain in the annals of history as unsubstantiated accounts. However, in looking at them, a clear pattern of sinister kidnappings and human experimentation has emerged.
It seems to have originated with the allegations made by Barney and Betty Hill. Dr. Adler recounted their tale.
“The Hills, a recently married couple, were on vacation and traveling by car in New Hampshire on the night of September 19, 1961,” he said. “They both saw an unknown object in the sky, which they examined with binoculars. They reported this to a local air force base, then returned home and slept. Betty wrote down several dreams in which humanoid aliens interrogated her.”
In 1964, a friend compelled the Hills to undergo hypnotic regression therapy, during which they seemed to recover memories of having been abducted and probed by aliens. They said these aliens were gray-skinned, with huge eyes and slits for noses. Of course, hypnotic regression therapy has come under fire for its suggestive powers, which may—either intentionally or accidentally—put false recollections and inaccurate memories in its subjects’ minds.
“In the absence of much better evidence, I am going to follow Occam’s Razor,” Dr. Adler said. “I think that the after-the-fact story recalled by Barney and Betty Hill about their abduction is a case of false memories recovered under hypnosis. I don’t think that they were lying, but sincerely believed that they were abducted.”
Whatever happened to the Hills, their story set a precedent that has been echoed in many forms of media both by fiction writers and those claiming authentic experiences. The upcoming report by the U.S. government is unlikely to hold any bombshell revelations, but whether humans are alone in the universe or not, the truth is out there.