Unidentified Aerial Phenomena

Over the weekend there were a rush of newspaper stories about a Ministry of Defence report into Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. The report was created in 2000 and has just been released (to be published online on May 15th) after a request under the Freedom of Information Act by Dr David Clarke, a lecturer in the Department of Media Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. For the record, Dr Clarke is also a feature writer for the Fortean Times and has "an interest in supernatural belief and tradition... flying saucer cults and the UFO subculture".

The release was an opportunity for newspapers to say "UFOs officially exist", although most sources I read in the UK had pretty accurate headlines such as "Sorry ET, you're just a puff of plasma", " UFO study finds no sign of aliens" and "UFO sightings caused by freak weather". Frankly, I'm amazed that they stayed away from the easy, and misleading, first option.

It frustrates me that 'UFO' has two meanings; the actual meaning (there are things in the sky that people are unable to readily identify) and the popular meaning ("space aliens"). They aren't the same thing. Most scientists would agree that people can't always identify everything they see in the sky (UFOs), but that doesn't mean that they are alien spaceships. After all, there are the much more likely possibilities of birds, clouds, con-trails, aeroplanes, planets, meteors, ball-lightning, plasma and even fairies to eliminate before you get as far as life from another world. This is especially true when you consider that our current best guesses (the Drake Equation) at the number of communicating civilizations in our galaxy - from a handful to 10,000 - may be too optimistic.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 08th May 2006 (18:16 UTC) | Permalink
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