A new book serves to document sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) in the past decade. The punch line is that UFO sightings are on the rise.
When I discuss UFOs in my class I feel it is important to point out from the start that we have never found compelling evidence for life outside of Earth in any form. In fact, the term UFO refers simply to an object in the sky for which we do not know what it is. One can imagine that many of us do see UFOs by that description.
The curious part is that when we see one, we do not stop there, but rather tend to jump suddenly to a conclusion such as to say “Oh, I don’t know what that is – that it must be a space ship from another planet that has come to Earth.” Why is that?
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson remind us that there is a human tendency to spring to a conclusion based on very little evidence. Might this be related to a necessary survival skill from the past, such as being able to make a quick recognition of whether the animal before you is dangerous and/or tasty, or if a certain plant may be safely consumed? And might this be related to the same knee-jerk reaction that arises when we see a car pulled off to the side of the road by the police and venture the reason, “Oh, that must be another DUI.” Psychologists call this tendency “argument from ignorance.” Of course if we really cannot tell why a car was pulled off the side of the road, or identify a foreign object in space, then perhaps we should just stop there.
It is interesting to ask what amateur astronomers make of UFOs. After all, they are looking up more often than the average person. It turns out that there are fewer UFO sightings among these space enthusiasts who are more likely to take the sighting of a bright moving object in the sky and cross reference it with the set of known communications satellites (which tend to move east-west), and suspected spy satellites which tend to move north-south). They also are good to identifying sources that “suddenly” appear in the night sky but do not move such as supernovae. Isn’t it curious that this upturn in the number of UFO sightings matches also the timescale over which most adults have engaged in rapid communication by social media applications? Why do you think there is a prevalence for the recording of UFOs in the past decade?