Today’s topic was one that my patrons on Patreon expressed interest in hearing. I understand if it’s not for everyone--if it seems too out there, as it were--but trust that I’ll be approaching it with the same spirit of logic and balanced skepticism that I always try to bring to my topics.
This time, I'll be broaching an extraordinary topic that, surprisingly, has been in the news recently. On December 16th, less than two months ago, a remarkable article appeared in the New York Times that may have flown right by many people, if you’ll excuse the pun. It was remarkable—and perhaps easy to ignore for many, whose news consumption these days is understandably monopolized by our ongoing political chaos—because it was about UFOs. Its title was “Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,” and essentially it revealed that since 2007, there has been in existence a top secret operation designated the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, or AATIP (perhaps an acronym pronounced a-tip and certainly an atypical program, if you’ll excuse another pun). This program, funded at different times by the Pentagon (and therefore taxpayers) and by private groups, has been investigating UFOs, or as some scientific researchers call it, UAP (unidentified aerial phenomena, a term that indicates the fact that, while we are dealing with witnesses seeing or believing they have seen something that appears to be in the air, we don’t actually know whether they are physical objects in flight). The Times article, however, includes some startling video of encounters between Navy jets and genuine UFOs—startling in that, being captured on radar, they do indeed appear to be…something… and their appearance and behavior doesn’t correspond with known aircraft or natural phenomena. Not wanting to jump to the extra-terrestrial hypothesis, which might sully their reputation in the eyes of many, the Times instead quotes an MIT astrophysicist about the need to study unexplained phenomena but also cautioning that we reserve judgment on its origin and nature, as well as a former NASA engineer and UFO debunker who suggests there may be a variety of prosaic explanations for the sightings investigated by AATIP.
While debunkers are already poo-pooing this development, many in the UFO or UAP research community have expressed great excitement that these may be the first stirrings of a long-awaited event called “Disclosure,” or the official revelation by government that we have been visited by extra-terrestrials. Indeed, there are many in the podcast community, and some fellow Dark Myths podcasters especially, that have been discussing this a great deal, their reactions ranging from pessimistic doubt, to cautious interest and even outright anticipatory glee. For a taste of some of the variety of reaction to this Times piece, check out recent episodes from Astonishing Legends and Not Alone, both of which feature UAP authority Rob Kristoffersen of the Our Strange Skies podcast.
In order to give readers some historical context for the phenomenon of people reporting unusual goings-on in the heavens, I will be doing a run-down of sorts intended to demonstrate that the study of strange sights in the sky should not be considered kooky but rather, taking into account the long history of the phenomenon, should be thought of as a valid scientific undertaking, to say nothing of the prudence of looking into the matter as an evaluation of threats from above.
Many people only look as far back as 1947 for the beginning of the era of UFO phenomenon. That year, in the state of Washington in the northwestern united states, an experienced search and rescue pilot by the name of Kenneth Arnold witnessed what would be the first sensational and widely reported UFO sighting of the modern era.
Kenneth Arnold was a college educated family man, a skilled pilot with over 9,000 hours in the air, over 4,000 in high altitudes among mountains, and by all accounts a trustworthy and serious man. In June of 1947, returning from a business trip with clear skies, he flew in his little two-seat monoplane near Mt. Rainier hoping to catch sight of a recently crashed U.S. Marine transport, and when he landed in Yakima, he had a crazy story to share with his friend, the airport manager. He claimed to have seen flashing lights that at first he took for reflections on his windows, but after rocking his plane and fiddling with his goggles, he realized they were aircraft. There were 9 of them, flying in formation and passing in front of Mt. Rainier, dark against the snow on its slopes, but they did not look like any aircraft he knew. He thought they must have been some kind of new military craft on a test flight, but it gave him such an eerie feeling that he felt he had to share it. Soon his story spread, and he was talking to reporters. The whole thing basically went viral, and Arnold’s comparison of the crafts to pie pans and saucers led to a very catchy term that spread through the papers like wildfire: flying saucers. The next month, in Roswell, New Mexico, something described as a flying disc crashed. The military said it was a weather balloon, and claiming there had been no military test flights around Mt. Rainier a month earlier, they speculated that Arnold had just seen a mirage, but it was too late. There was a full-blown UFO flap on, with hundreds of similar sightings, and for decades, most UFO sightings involved disc-shaped objects, flying saucers just like Kenneth Arnold’s, but strangely, Arnold claimed he had never described them as saucer-like in shape.
Kenneth Arnold did describe the crafts he’d seen by comparing them to discs, but only on one side, for he explained that they were more like a crescent or a semicircle, “like a pie plate cut in half.” And he did compare them to a saucer, but only to describe their erratic motion, saying they moved the way a saucer skips across water. Nevertheless, the term flying saucer struck one reporter’s ear just right, and that’s what was transmitted to the world. And it is indeed puzzling that, even though Arnold hadn’t seen a disc, most sightings after this were discs. One explanation for this discrepancy is what is called in ufology the psychosocial hypothesis. Martin Kottmeyer in 1988 suggested that the fact the shape had been misreported as a saucer and then that the majority of sightings thereafter were of saucers proves that the entire phenomenon is cultural in nature. Moreover, this psychosocial hypothesis was able to explain something problematic in ufology, namely the phenomenon of flaps or waves of sightings. It didn’t make sense that extra-terrestrials would visit lots of places in bursts then disappear, unless they just came around when Mar was closer in its orbit, but astronomers ruled this out. However, if you thought about one sighting setting off the others, whether they were hoaxes or mistakes or hallucinations or psychological manifestations of a cultural phenomenon, then UFO flaps could be explained.
Of course, this explanation fails to account for sightings with evidence, such as those reported in the Times article, with radar and video records of strange objects in the sky. These can often be dismissed as secret military aircraft or drones, or in an earlier era, as weather balloons, of course. And this is similar to previous explanations that they were simply unidentified airplanes piloted by private citizens or perhaps foreign agents, or during the late 19th century wave of airship sightings, that they were just that: dirigibles piloted by men on unadvertised flights. Perhaps no one was aware of the flight plans of these crafts or who crewed them, but that did not make them extraterrestrial or even extraordinary.
I’ll have more to say about the Mystery Airships, but that is for another episode. For the purposes of this brief prehistory, it is more important look further back, when unidentified aerial phenomena cannot be blamed on manmade aircraft, in order to show that the UFO is by no means a historically discrete phenomena or an invention of the 20th century. Long before Kenneth Arnold’s flying half-saucers, back all the way at the furthest edge of recorded history even, we find remarkably familiar sounding reports of strange sightings in the sky. We will find that these “celestial wonders” or “prodigies,” as they were usually called, were most often interpreted as miracles with religious connotations, as signs from a god or gods. This is simply an example of the way people interpret phenomena through the lens of their worldview. From a modern perspective, many of these sightings from antiquity through the early 19th century will likely be dismissed as astronomical or meteorological events—shooting stars, meteor showers, ball lightning and whatnot. But might not this also be an example of people interpreting phenomena through the lens of their worldview. There are a great many such sightings, 500 in fact, all compiled by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck in my principal source, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times. And while some of the reports may seem easily explained with a flippant gesture and mention of weather or comets, there are others that are not. It’s these, the most interesting to me, I have chosen to feature here.
We shall start with Ancient Egypt, where text discovered by archeologists on a monument to the conquests of Thutmosis III describes a star that descended in 1460 BCE, in Lebanon, to strike his enemies, the Nubians, spooking their horses and positioning itself above to illuminate their faces with fire. Now this account could easily be dismissed as a fabrication mythologizing the power and majesty of this conqueror, but if we meet the report on its own terms, it represents the record of an unidentified aerial light that appears to have been directed by an intelligence that chose sides in a battle, coming to the aid of one army in opposition to another. Then, according to inscriptions on another monument, Pharoah Akhenaton was out for a walk by the river in 1347 BCE when a “shining disc” descended and communicated with him, directing him to found a new Egyptian capital, and Akhenaton did so, going even further to establish a religion worshipping the so-called Solar Disc. Here again, the report could easily be disregarded as religious claptrap or perhaps just as a mystical visionary experience, but if we take it at face value, we are hard-pressed to explain what was reported as a natural phenomenon.
There are as well some passages of the Bible that describe strange aerial phenomena in association with what might today be termed abductions. In 2 Kings, we have the story of Elijah the Tishbite, the only biblical prophet who never died, as he was taken up by a whirlwind to climb aboard a chariot of fire. And in Ezekiel, we have a vivid account of strange, winged, multi-faced visitors and objects described as “wheels within wheels” that rumbled like an earthquake. During the course of this encounter, Ezekiel was miraculously transported to a mountaintop. Now perhaps these accounts were influenced, as has been suggested of many miraculous visions in the Bible, by hallucination, maybe due to ergotism--which we discussed in Episode 4: The Dancing Plague—or maybe due to the unknowing consumption of some other hallucinogenic substance, or perhaps these visions were experienced during epileptic seizures. Then there is the possibility that these books and other such scriptural accounts of anomalous phenomena were actually written years later by scribes who embellished previous accounts. We don’t know, and so we take the descriptions as they come to us. As we continue in our survey of anomalous history, though, we may begin to ask whether all of these sightings can be so easily explained away.
In Ancient Rome, a variety of similar “prodigies” were recorded for posterity. In the 3rd century BCE, there are reports of ships (as in seagoing vessels) and other objects, some described as round, appearing in the sky, and men in white clothing, like clergymen, standing atop them. There are also reports from the same century, and well into the next, of lights in the sky that were thought to be secondary suns or additional moons, implying that they remained stationary and were of great size. And at the end of the second and beginning of the first century BCE, reports indicate more than mere lights, with descriptions of what sounds like aerial conflict, witnesses claiming they saw flaming spears and flying shields that moved in different directions before clashing together in what appeared to be battle.
Into the Common Era then, and for several centuries we continue to find sporadic reports of torches and globes of light in the sky and objects compared to burning pillars or flying chariots above not only Italy but the Mid-East and the far East, with multiple sightings in Japan and China as well, where phenomena sighted in the skies were often identified as dragons. Whereas, when we look to Northern Europe, and the anomalous phenomena preserved in their records, we begin to see a recurring theme with the reporting of shields in the sky, doing battle. Specifically Medieval Ireland offers some reports of interest. In 698, according to a manuscript transcribed in the 17th century, three shields of different colors were seen not just in flight but “as it were warring from the east to the west.” Less than a century later, also in Ireland, 15th century annals chronicle sightings of aerial ships on which were seen actual crew members. These reports seem to correspond with others in Europe, specifically in France during the reign of Pepin the Short, when apparently many ships, with full complements of crew members, had been seen aloft in the skies. These accounts have doubt cast on them because they appear nearly a thousand years later, but there do exist contemporary accounts that confirm the people of France in that era believed in ships that sailed the clouds and the men who sailed them.
In one of his many treatises, St. Agobard, a Spanish priest and archbishop of Lyons in the 800s, described a common belief that France received visits from a race of men who piloted airships coming out of a mysterious land called Magonia. Agobard scoffed at these beliefs, which actually went hand in hand with another bizarre notion: that when terrible weather occurred, it was often literally raised by weather wizards. This idea had a long history even then, and it asserted that certain men called Tempestaires or Tempestarii could, by means of sorcery, call forth storms and floods upon the land. This they did for the purpose of selling the fruit that had fallen from the trees during the foul weather as well as the livestock that was killed by the floods and storms. And it was to the airship navigators of Magonia that these Tempestaires sold their ill-gotten goods, creating a kind of black market economy between thieving sorcerers and extra-terrestrials. St. Agobard shared one particular story that was especially troubling, in which some townsfolk held a meeting about stoning four prisoners, three men and a woman who had been chained up and captive for days. They claimed the prisoners had fallen off of a Magonian cloudship. It’s unclear whether they believed these captives to be Magonians who had tumbled overboard or Tempestaires who had only been aboard the ship to conduct their underhanded commerce. Regardless, it seemed being either was enough to warrant execution in their minds. As for Agobard, he believed they were “blinded with profound stupidity” and talked them down from stoning the four people.
It’s clear that these notions were already considered fringe and absurd in Agobard’s time, for he describes believers as being “overcome with so much foolishness, made crazy by so much stupidity.” And it certainly appears that these ideas were destructive in that they may have led to more than one lynching or witch-hunt–type hysteria, for this may not have been the first and only time people were accused of being Tempestaires or Magonians, and others may not have been so lucky as to have a skeptical archbishop around to talk sense into their captors. Nevertheless, it remains interesting as it seems to suggest that sightings of these cloudships were even more common than it appears from the records we have, for entire mythologies had been developed to interpret and explain them.
We see much of the same kind of prodigies across Europe and the Orient through to the end of the millennium: lights in the sky, sometimes called stars or suns, often described as spherical objects or globes, behaving in a fashion that seems out of character for meteors. In Germany, 944, there are globes described as being composed of iron that burned the countryside. And in Japan, on more than one occasion, what appeared to be groups of three objects were seen flying in formation—in 944 in a triangular pattern and in 989 converging from different direction upon the same point. And in the first half of the second Millenium, the prodigies continued. In addition to much more of the same unidentified lights, we see further descriptions of what appear to be craft engaged in aerial combat! 1023, France, two stars were said to have fought each other throughout the fall season, flying at each other from east to west, one of them repelling the other with a “mane of light” so that it couldn’t come near. In China, 1169, two dragons were seen during a storm, doing battle in the skies, during which combat, two “pearls like wheels” fell to the earth. In England, in October of 1253, three stars emerged from a black cloud, two small and one large. It was reported that the two small stars charged the large one over and over, sending sparks falling earthward, until the large star reduced in size, or at least, as we might assume, in brightness. And on to Italy, in 1284, where a Franciscan monk recorded that some women in a town called Saint Ruffino witnessed two stars chasing each other around and colliding repeatedly, a sign which he says presaged the outcome of a subsequent naval battle. Then away east, in Japan in 1349, flying objects were seen coming from different quarters of the heavens, displaying acrobatic maneuvers as they approached each other and emitted flashes of light, as if, one might imagine, they were discharging weapons. After that, back westward, to France in 1395, when there is another report of small stars in combat with a large star, this time five small luminosities pursuing and seeming to attack the larger one. This particular sighting also included the booming sound of a shouting voice and the vision of a spear-wielding man hurling fire at the large star, but make of that what you will. And in October of 1461, in another region of France, 25-foot-long fiery phenomena appeared more than once in the sky, accompanied by a great tumult of noise and behaving as if doing battle. This trend of unidentified aerial phenomena that behaved as if engaged in warfare reached its peak in the 16th century with the so-called Battle of Nuremberg.
A bizarre event recorded for posterity in a broadsheet, complete with woodcut illustration, occurred in Nuremberg at dawn on April 14th, 1561. Two cylinders appeared suspended in the skies over the city. They faced each other in the morning sunlight, standing vertically. In the long history of unidentified aerial phenomena up to this point, there had been numerous accounts of columnar objects in the skies. Often described as pillars, sometimes luminous, they have been known to offer guidance on occasion. Just think of the pillar of fire that lit the way for the Children of Israel in their Exodus. And there are similar tales of fiery sky pillars in ancient Rome and Ireland and Russia, but it’s doubtful that the people of Nuremberg made this connection themselves. Still, you might say there’s some precedent for objects like these. In Nuremberg, however, they did not appear to be flaming pillars. Instead, out of these cylinders flew numerous disks and balls of various colors. The description, in translation, is more than a little confusing, explaining that “within which small and big pipes were found three balls also four and more,” which seems to also indicate that there was a difference in size between the two cylinders. To further confuse the matter, the woodcut illustration accompanying the text depicts three of these pipes—called rods in some translations—rather than two, as well as a great many bars or lines like streaks in the sky. These are described as blood-red strips in the text, and they might be interpreted as long objects themselves or as beams of light or even as contrails produced by the exhaust of the spheres that were apparently flying to and fro, launched from the pillars. Further corresponding to other strange sightings that had been described in preceding eras, crosses are also depicted in the sky at the event in Nuremberg, and a massive black spear as well. One thing is certain. The account is explicit in insisting that the spheres and disks launched from the pillars engaged in a terrible fight, stating that they “flew back and forth among themselves and fought vehemently with each other for over an hour.” And before it was over, some of these battling globes crashed to the earth, burning and smoking.
Now skeptics often dismiss this quite famous incident by pointing to a modern debunking of the show Ancient Aliens, called creatively enough, Ancient Aliens Debunked, which casts doubt on the broadsheet, comparing it to the tabloids of today and saying its author may well have fabricated the entire event, even though the broadsheet asserts that the event was witnessed by many people, both in the city and in the countryside beyond. In truth, this is a broad generalization, and we simply don’t know enough about the printer of this broadsheet to discredit it. His name was Hans Wolff Glaser, and he appears to have mostly practiced his woodcutting in portraiture and religious work. While his work may be considered “coarse” today, there is no evidence that he was a hoaxer or that he ever made comparable claims before or after.
Meanwhile, these same debunkers, unable to decide if it was a hoax or if something actually was seen in 1561, go on to suggest that the Nuremberg sighting was simply a case of trying to construe a natural phenomenon to the witnesses’ limited understanding of the world. From this perspective, it was only a parhelion, or sun dog, an atmospheric optical illusion caused by the reflection of light on ice particles in clouds that results in mock suns and crescents—think gratuitous lens flare in a J. J. Abrams film. This phenomenon actually does offer a valid and reasonable explanation for many UAP throughout history, especially those that describe lights in the sky as additional suns. However, it doesn’t really work in the case of the Nuremberg incident, as there remains the problematic detail described in Glaser’s text and illustrated in his woodcut that during the battle over the city, these mysterious objects fell burning to the ground, where they emitted great plumes of smoke as flames consumed them.
And this event does not stand alone in this time period, either, for in Basel, Switzerland, just five years later, another battle of spheres is said to have taken place. Again recorded in a pamphlet complete with an immortal illustration, these balls, which were described as black, were said to have flown at each other and to have collided and burst into flames and burned away to nothing. Certainly this event can be dismissed by casting doubt on the publication as well, or by suggesting the Swiss witnesses had actually seen parhelia, even though the blackness of the spheres against the sun seems to preclude such an explanation, but when you take off your historical blinders and widen your focus beyond a single event or two, you begin to recognize many sightings that appear to share elements: in the same city the next year, for example, a black sphere reportedly obscures the sun for an entire day. In Italy four years after that, a flaming column that might be compared to the cylinders over Nuremberg is seen at night by the papal fleet. A year after that, in Turkey, more crosses are seen in the sky, as in Nuremberg. In 1589, in France, what appears to be another sky battle is reported, this time with clouds flying and hurling fiery spears at one another. And in 1590 Scotland, another tubular object is seen by peasants to hover over a town before vanishing. Can all these be attributed to sun dogs?
As we enter the 17th century, reports increase to once every year or two, if not multiple sightings in a year—visions of ships and battles in the sky as well as signs and prodigies like lights and objects including globes and wheels and pillars. In 1665, we find a story out of Germany worth noting for a number of reasons, the foremost of which being that the phenomenon is described as being like a plate with a dome, similar to a man’s hat. In the previous century, there had been several sightings of objects said to be like hats in the sky; these cases, not to mention all the sightings of flying shields, make it clear that the notion of saucer-shaped flying objects may have been around long before Arnold’s time, making the fact of saucer sightings after Arnold’s miscommunication of the shape far less problematic. The story is as follows: in Stralsund, some fisherman reported a flock of sea birds that changed form before their eyes to become battle ships engaged in aerial warfare—once again, a common theme in UAP for centuries. Strangely, though, after this vision faded, they saw a singular object that can most simply be described as a flying saucer. This domed plate hovered over their church for the rest of the day, and the witnesses reported pain and trembling in their limbs the next day, as if their proximity to the object had physically harmed them, an account that calls up notions of radiation poisoning. And toward the end of the century, Germany again saw a strange visitation, over Mecklenberg and Hamburg, in the form of two massive, glowing balls or wheels. After remaining in the sky for fifteen minutes and drawing a crowd of thousands, the objects gave out a loud bang sound and disappeared.
The 17th century also saw the rise of the telescope, an invention that was improved and made more practical by Isaac Newton and others until, in the 18th century, there existed many astronomers, both learned and amateur, all searching the heavens for phenomena of interest. It’s no surprise then that many of the unusual sightings from this era onward, especially after the 1733 development of the achromatic lens, were seen by means of telescopes. In particular, many astronomers believed they saw an unknown planetoid in orbit around Venus, usually observed when Venus was in transit across the disc of the Sun. These are strange enough, since today we know of no Venusian satellites, but even more oddly, astronomers also caught sight of other, unidentified objects passing in front of the sun. These sightings continued into the 19th century, when as we approach the age of aviation, unidentified aerial phenomena become even more complicated by the presence of manmade crafts in the skies. However, we still find some reports that prove hard to explain away.
As discovered in a manuscript archived at the Russian State History Museum, a senator in Moscow wrote a report in 1808 of an object appearing on the horizon and then approaching almost instantaneously with a great, audible crack. Described as a “long, straight plate,” it seems unclear whether it appeared to be saucer-like or was simply flat like a sheet of metal. Regardless, after approaching at phenomenal speed, it stopped and floated in a circle over the Kremlin. Then with a burst of phosphorescent flame from one end, it lit the city as if it were daytime. Thereafter it departed straight upward, shrinking in the distance until it was no longer visible. A remarkable document, it appears to have passed historical scrutiny as the writing style and the age of the paper indicate authenticity.
And in this same era, as might be expected, reports begin to arise in the young United States as well. One such can be found in the papers of Thomas Jefferson. In an 1813 letter, one Edward Hansford, a carpenter and the harbormaster of Portsmouth, Virginia, informed Jefferson that he and another man had seen a huge ball of fire, which he describes as “agitated.” As he writes it, the brilliant sphere emitted smoke that occasionally obscured it and then changed its form to that of a turtle, which strikes a chord of familiarity, for what else is a turtle shell but a domed oval, similar indeed to a domed disc.
And we must wrap up our brief history of UAP with some incidents that seem to encapsulate many of these reports, in that they appear authentic and certainly tantalize with their strange details, but with close examination we see they may derive from less than reliable sources. In an Ohio town called Jay, one Henry Wallace and several others are said to have seen an unusual vessel, mechanical in nature with wheels and other workings that could be observed from below as it passed by, flying about a hundred yards above the ground at a speed of around 6 miles an hour. According to this report, the witnesses saw the occupants of this vessel and estimated they were, on average, about twelve feet tall. Now this story comes to us from an 1858 book that is primarily medical in nature, which also touches on other fringe science, and purports to be a story told to the author firsthand by the witnesses themselves. As with many of the sightings I’ve already recounted, this one can easily be doubted based on its source. Researchers trying to confirm some particulars in it have only been able to ascertain that a town called Jay existed, but not as late as 1858, having seemingly ceased to be after 1842, and that a Henry Wallace lived in a nearby county. The rest of it must be accepted on credulity alone.
And here we are already in the age of ballooning, as Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English Channel in a hand-powered balloon in 1784, and in 1852, Henri Giffard made the first known flight in a steam-powered balloon. Thus, the Jay, Ohio, sighting may be one of the first sightings of the mystery airships that would proliferate in the 19th century. In 1861, for example, the New York Times reported the passage of a manned balloon over New York City but could not ascertain who had built or piloted it. And in this vein comes the last account I’ll share from Vallee and Aubeck’s chronology, which again presents 500 reports throughout history and would make a great coffee table book and conversation piece if you’re into this kind of stuff. This story, like the last, seems to indicate, strangely, that the nearer we come to modern accounts, the less reliable these sightings become. It at first appears to be the tale of a mystery airship, as Frederick William Birmingham, an alderman of Parramatta, in New South Wales, Australia, reports that he witnessed a flying ark touch down near his cottage. He describes its motions and structure with great precision, noting that its hull appeared tremulous and metallic, likening it to the scales of a fish. His story goes on to become even stranger, with a disembodied voice asking him to board the vessel and his being lifted off the ground and carried aloft to its upper decks. An occupant of the vessel, looking like a normal man, invited him down steps into the craft’s interior and awarded him with blueprints to build an airship of the same design. Thereafter, Birmingham experienced what ufologists might term high strangeness, with further signs in the sky and even poltergeist activity in his home. Quite an astounding tale, but in tracing it to its source, researchers have found it dubious. It comes to us through the writings of a ufologist who claimed to have transcribed it in the 1950s from a handwritten book that, first discovered by a teacher in the 1940s had thereafter been passed from person to person before getting into the hands of ufologists and astrologers and promptly disappearing. In fact, there appears to be no evidence of the original manuscript’s existence.
Thus as the late modern period approaches contemporary history, we find reports of UAP more and more problematic, based solely on the presence of explainable aircraft and the proliferation of hoaxers and UFO enthusiasts willing to fabricate incidents. And of course, it is also true that all the long parade of sightings throughout history might easily be dismissed as scientifically explainable meteorological phenomena or atmospheric optical illusions that witnesses simply had no understanding of or could not process without interpreting them according to their understanding of the world, or perhaps as hallucinations or tall tales spread by religious zealots or mischief makers, for such people seem to have been around since time immemorial. Moreover, sightings by early astronomers might easily be called mistakes chalked up to the science of astronomy and the use of telescopes still being in their infancy. But what this brief history of unidentified aerial phenomena certainly demonstrates is that UFOs are not a phenomenon peculiar to contemporary history. While they might have been called signs or prodigies in different eras, they’ve been reported throughout history, as have even more bizarre reports of abductions and encounters with actual mystery beings.
Therefore, considering this historical context, a news story about the Pentagon evaluating the threat of UFOs should not seem like fringe lunacy or a waste of taxpayer money. Rather, if one does not turn a blind eye to this phenomenon’s long history, it seems a prudent and practical program, and one that, along with the rigorous scientific study of what many consider fringe theories, has been sorely lacking for a long time. So kudos to the Times for printing their recent story despite potential embarrassment, and kudos to Jacques Vallee for peering around the blind corners of our past and recording oddities to which other historians would rather shut their eyes.