Call to astronomers to report Unidentified Aerial Phenomona

By Phil Plait | December 24, 2009 8:00 am

denver_ufoI have been saying for years that a) most UFOs are simply misidentified mundane phenomena (satellites, meteors, balloons, Venus, weird clouds, even the Moon) and that 2) if they were real, astronomers — who spend a lot more time looking at the sky than your average person — should be reporting most of them.

My musings on this have been twisted and distorted by UFO folks — shocker! — even though I’ve been pretty clear about what I would count as evidence. But now we may have a way to cut through the garbage. A new website has been started for professional and amateur astronomers to report Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. I rather like this new UAP acronym, since it avoids the UFO/flying saucer baggage. Anyway, it was set up as part of IYA 2009 to help astronomers report things in the sky they may not immediately understand. Better yet, it has links to handy guides that will help people who might otherwise misidentify normal things like sundogs and other weather phenomena.

The website is the brainchild of Philippe Ailleris:

Despite the controversy surrounding the topic, he believes that it is possible to approach the UAP field from a professional, rational, and scientific angle without any a priori. He considers that UAP studies my increase the scientific understanding of today poorly understood natural phenomenon, and ultimately he even sees the potential for Science to discover new unknown phenomena, therefore making such study invaluable. His research therefore focuses on attempting to raise the interest of the scientific community and to bridge various fields to devise what he believes is the necessary multidisciplinary approach to studying the phenomena.

I agree. As Carl Sagan said, whether UFOs are real and we’re being visited, or they’re a mass social phenomenon due to the way our brains work, either aspect is fascinating and worthy of actual study.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Astronomy, Cool stuff, IYA

Comments (19)

  1. StevoR

    Well said, BA, well said. :-)

    Good new acronymn & good old Carl Sagan quote too. (Even if you did forget to put Sagan’s words in quotation marks.)

  2. It doesn’t matter; this won’t stop the woo. The UFO nuts and the industry that feeds off them will just become UAP nuts, and in the process they’ll claim that this is PROOF the scientists know SOMETHING IS OUT THERE. See, they were all part of the COVERUP after all.

  3. All the education and teaching in the world just can’t help some people.

    Although, I heard about a “UFO” event here in NH (celebrating the Hill’s abduction tale), and it was rather POORLY attended. Heck, the skeptic who attended was begged to be in the “parade” because she wore a goofy “UFO Hat”, so maybe these nutters are losing steam?

  4. markogts

    Well, I think the research of ball lightning and similar fringe phenomena could lead to interesting things. But still, I think the biggest part of this UFO issue affects mainly sociologists and other shrinks.

    Phil, I don’t know if I remember correctly, but wasn’t there already a discussion on this blog about astronomers and astro-geeks having afterall a very minor “cumulated observation time” compared to the huge amount of people out there?

  5. Spectroscope

    Well it should at least cut down the number of misidentifications of Venus & even Earth’s very own Moon as UFO’s / UAP’s! ūüėČ

  6. mike burkhart

    I’ve said before that some ufos maybe expamental or top seceret air craft (I think the rash of triangle ufos sighted in Europe in the late 80s were F 117s that were being deployed to NATO air bases) so if Astronomers do see ufos that can’t be explaned by the things Phill mentioned they maybe reading about them in a aircraft magazine by the way the Jupiter2 itself was not armed it only had a armory of laser guns and a force feild projector

  7. Every now and then I have a frustrating argument with someone about aliens. I believe there must be alien life somewhere. I also believe most, if not all, UFOs are either a hoax or just some misidentified thing in the air. Trying to explain the difference to some people is not pleasant.

  8. I’ve heard it said that 95% of all UFOs can be labeled as ‘mis-identified’ man-mad aircraft, natural phenomena, or stellar objects. It’s the 5% or less that remain truly unidentified that drive astronomers and astro-physicists nuts. (I heard an astro-physicist quote this many years ago in an interview concerning the Mexican Air-force sighting, and I cannot remember his name).

    I think that something like this web-site can only be a good thing. It may, in fact shed some scientific light on the remaining 5% of sightings.

  9. Adam

    Great idea. As an amateur astronomer, I think it’s in our nature to look for the logical explanations first. I was at our local observatory for the recent Ontario fireball, and immediately saw web postings about the event as well as thorough follow ups. By nature, scientists and astronomers are more thorough and detailed.
    Not that I think we’re going to find aliens visiting, but it may just help to explain some of those true unidentified flying objects.

  10. mike burkhart

    Phill I got an idea next time you want to talk about ufos insted of useing the jupiter2 in your image how about an city destoryer form ID4

  11. jcm

    It is quite interesting that TV shows about UFOs never interview astronomers (either professional or amateur). The only people who are interviewed are crackpots and conspiracy theorists.

    BTW, people who are into UFOs will dismiss this effort as another government conspiracy to hide the truth.

  12. I got an idea, too. Why don’t we all learn where the punctuation keys are?

    Happy Christmas!

  13. Mark Hansen

    The problem with the 5% unexplainable sightings is that the woo-meisters seize on this as being proof positive of aliens in our midst. They forget that most of the 5% are unexplainable due to insufficient data. Add to that Mike Burkhart’s explanation for other sightings and you’re left with pretty much nothing at all.

    Merry Christmas to all from Australia.

  14. I really don’t think there’s any explanation for this object (Between 8:40 and the end of the clip):

  15. MadScientist

    I like the French version best: unexplained aerial phenomena (some suggested unexplained atmospheric phenomena, but of course not all are atmospheric effects).

  16. DB

    As I like to tell my friends, I believe in UFO’s and have seen them. I just do not believe they are alien spacecraft.

  17. JupiterIsBig

    #17 @Mark
    +1 to everything you wrote.
    Merry Christmas from Australia

    Phil, Thanks for your entertaining and educational Blog

  18. UmTutSut

    “As Carl Sagan said, whether UFOs are real and we‚Äôre being visited, or they‚Äôre a mass social phenomenon due to the way our brains work, either aspect is fascinating and worthy of actual study.”

    Wholeheartedly concur!

    I guess it helps to be Carl Sagan. When I’ve made very similar comments to UFO posts on the blog, I’ve been derided because “there’s nothing to study.”


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar