Investigating UFO Reports
Jane Brooks, Treasurer UFO RESEARCH S.A. INC.
(Investigator No. 3, 1988
in the title of this article for a good reason: there are no UFO's
(unidentified flying objects) available for examination.
we have to work
with are eye-witness reports, and in a few cases. physical traces such
as crop or grass damage.
certain that they already know what UFO's are. Therefore they tend not
to investigate reports (ie try to determine what the witnesses have
seen) but instead collect them as evidence in support of their belief.
These people are more religious than scientific in their approach, and
hence the term "believer" is a more accurate one for describing them
than "researcher" or "investigator". Believing is not a topic in this
article, but investigating is.
UFO reports are
investigated as well as being collected, we will never be able to find
out whether or not exotic theories such as the popuLar one that UFO's
are extraterrestrial spacecraft are true. Many people who see something
they are unable to identify or explain have NOT seen something really
strange, but are unable to recognize what they have seen either because
they are unfamiliar with it, or see it under unusual conditions. What
are UFO's to the witnesses are IFO's (identified flying objects) to
it can be concluded
that a witness has seen something strange, investigators have to try to
make sure that they have not overlooked a phenomenon already known to
humans, and which fits the description provided by the witness.
Therefore, in order to be able to investigate UFO reports, a person
needs to acquire some basic knowledge of meteorology, astronomy,
astronautics, physics, botany and psychology. Social skills are also
important when interviewing witnesses. These requirements sound
daunting, but an investigator does not need to be an expert in all or
any of these fields; he or she needs to be better informed than the
average person. He or she will, however, need to be able to determine
when expert advice is needed.
example of how a
natural phenomenon can be misinterpreted, consider the effects the
atmosphere has on the appearance of stars and planets. If people see a
light in the night sky changing colour and shape, and jiggling about,
they will think to themselves: "That cannot be a star or planet,
because it is changing and moving." A better informed person will know
that the changes observed are due to refraction of light by, and
turbulence in the atmosphere, and it is normal for astronomical objects
to have that appearance when low in the sky.
investigator will be able to distinguish between the misinterpreted and
the unexplainable. Some examples of objects and phenomena which are
commonly mistakenly regarded as being unexplainable are the appearance
of the planets, Venus, Jupiter and Mars; the stars Canopus and Capella;
meteors and re-entering space junk; clouds, mirages, rare
meteorological phenomena, meteorological balloons; aircraft, kites,
airborne debris; fungus rings in grass. It must be pointed out that
even highly skilled people such as pilots can misinterpret what they
investigator can identify an object for a witness from the initial
description given (usually by phone). If this is not possible, the
witness will be asked to complete a report form. Unfortunately, many
people who are puzzled enough to make a phone call never get around to
completing and returning the form, and the report cannot be
investigated further. It is interesting to note that only about 1% of
reports are deliberate hoaxes, and most of these can be picked up as
being such without having a completed report form.
form is received,
investigators go through a process of elimination in which the
information provided is checked against known natural and man made
phenomena, to see if there is a conventional explanation which fits the
data. Thorough investigators are not necessarily TRYING to "explain
away" a UFO report, but the principle of "Occam's Razor" tells us that
if there is more than one possible explanation for something, the
simplest or most conventional one is most likely to be correct. Before
turning to a theory such as the popular extraterrestrial theory, one
would need to be unable to come up with any other explanation. Even
then, caution is required.
should not jump to the
conclusion that unexplained = extraterrestrial. For many years circular
depressions that appear mysteriously in crops have been believed by
some people to be evidence of extraterrestrial spacecraft having
landed, even though no one had reported seeing a spacecraft making one
of the circles. In the 2 June 1988 issue of "New Scientist" it was
reported that the Tornado and Storm Research Organization (TORRO) had
had eye witness accounts of two of the circles being formed.
farmers saw that
they were formed by a kind of whirlpool vortex in the atmosphere. They
just happened to be in the right place at the right time to see it
happening, and no-one else had had this opportunity!
the reader is
getting the impression that because most UFO reports turn out to be
misinterpretations, it follows that they all have conventional
explanations, here are two reports investigated by UFO Research S.A. on
which you may ponder.
4, 1973 witnesses
in three independent cars driving along Highway One at night
approximately 51km out of Kimba saw, in a clearing, an orange/red
rectangular glow of light with a sharply defined, white clothed human
figure floating in the middle of the shape. All sets of witnesses
independently reported the phenomenon to the Kimba police. Subsequent
investigation showed that nothing abnormal was or seemed to have been
in the clearing.
July 1977 at about
4:30pm a man driving along the main Williamstown to Birdwood road
noticed an unusual object gradually getting lower in the sky. He
stopped his car, and saw that the jumbo-jet sized object had come to
rest on the ground near a large electricity pylon. It had a long, fat
body, a tail, but no wings or wheels. After a few minutes it rose
vertically at great speed into the air.
usual process of
elimination has not revealed explanations for these two reports.
Neither are they classic types of "flying saucer" reports, and caution
dictates that the only conclusion which can be reached is that we have
no explanation for them.
article has covered
only a small portion of topics encompassed by the investigation of UFO
of report not
mentioned is the "close encounter", which is much less likely to be the
result of a misinterpretation. Another kind where witnesses claim to
have been abducted, are even stranger, and require the expertise of
psychologists during their investigation. For those readers who would
like to look more deeply into the investigation of UPO reports, the
book "The UFO Handbook: A Guide to investigating, evaluating, and
reporting UFO sightings" by Allan Hendry is recommended reading.
are also several
ACUFOS (Australian Centre for UFO Studies) documents available, some of
which are listed below.
can be frustrating, but it helps to broaden one's general knowledge and
stimulates the mind. Anyone interested in obtaining these documents
and/or actually becoming an investigator, or wishing to report a
sighting, can contact UFO Research S.A.
"UFO's Over Australia: A
Selection of ACUFOS Research Findings and Debate" Edited by Mark
Moravec and John Prytz.
"Basic Investigators Guide"
- UFO Research Australia. Compiled by Keith Basterfield.
"Catch a Falling Frog" by
Derek Elsom. "New Scientist" 2 June 1988.
"Mystery Circles: Myth in
the Making: by Paul Fuller. International UFO Reporter, May/June 1988.
Australian Entity Study
Group Case Document, Kimba, South Australia. Published by UFO Research,
S. A. Inc.
"The Continuing Saga of our
Birdwood Case". Published by UFO Research S. A. Inc.