Unidentifiable, not always abnormal

UFOs often mislabeled

Technician/February 6, 2008

"I look off this way," a resident of Stephenville, TX said, pointing across a barren field, "and we have some lights approaching us at a high rate of speed."

The object, he said, came within about a mile of him, maintaining a 3,000-foot gap between itself and the earth.

"[It had] very unusual lights, not from around here," he said. The lights flew past him in the direction of Stephenville, where they "reconfigured and turned into flames and then disappeared."

When the lights reappeared, the witness said in an interview with Larry King that two military jets were pursuing it.

Other witnesses from around Stephenville reasoned that what they saw flying above their hometown on Jan. 8 was a UFO.

And according to John Hubisz, a visiting professor of physics, it's a conclusion at which many UFO witnesses arrive.

"A UFO is an unidentified flying object. It's just an object someone can't recognize. Just because a person can't identify something doesn't mean it's an oddity," Hubisz said. "People see it and think it's impossible unless it comes from outer space. Their imaginations, of course, are prone to thinking the object must have come from outer space.

People don't tend to make good observers.

A case of mistaken identity

It's not rare, Hubisz said, for witnesses of seemingly paranormal events to be fooled by "something quite ordinary."

"[There are] all kinds of phenoma that people have mistaken for UFOs," he said.

For years, people who looked toward the sky tended to mistake Venus for a UFO. Even former president Jimmy Carter, Hubisz said, believed the planet to be a visitor from another solar system.

"If it happens to be icy, Venus appears to jump around," he said, attributing the mirage to a reaction caused by mixing together the Venus's light and Earth's weather conditions. "It appears to move very fast."

However, those who swear their eyes aren't playing tricks on them could be right. According to Hubisz, government testing reveals aircrafts that have yet been seen by the ordinary citizen.

"Whenever something new is being tested," he said, "it almost always ends up being reported as a UFO."

A 'logical explanation'

When UFO reports are neither accidental nor mistaken, Hubisz said they are faked.

"People go out and fake them just to get some attention," he said. "They'll make up nice-looking photographs that could be made out of very simple equipment."

"There are lots of photos, but every one of them has a logical explanation," Hubisz said.

When he showed his class a selection of UFO photographs, Hubisz said most believed them to be real. It wasn't until he relayed to them an intensive analysis, such as a blown up version of the UFO, that they saw the sightings were fake. Possible, but very unlikely

The question of UFO authenticity isn't answered by determining whether the sightings are real. After all, something has to be either driving the spacecraft or directing its destination.

Christopher Brown, director of Space Programs, said it is highly probably there is life outside Earth.

"Given the immensity of the galaxy and the Universe, the chance that there is life elsewhere is high," Brown said. "As to its ability to build and operate a UFO - I don't know."

But even if sentient beings did build and operate a spacecraft, it would take many years for it to reach Earth. The nearest solar system from which UFOs would be departing, Hubisz said, is four and a half light-years away - that is, light leaving that solar system would take four and a half years to reach ours. And spacecraft travel at far lesser speeds than that of light.

"For a space vehicle coming from another solar system, I expect it's going to take many, many, many, many years for the vehicle to get here," Hubisz said. "Advanced technology could build a vehicle to take that journey, and it could go into orbit around the Earth. We've sent out space ships, but it will take them 12,000 years to get to the nearer solar systems - and they're traveling at tens of thousands of miles a minute."

And once the spacecraft has arrived, it has to pass through the Earth's atmosphere undetected - a feat Hubisz deemed almost impossible due to systems that track everything orbiting and entering the Earth.

"We detect astronauts' gloves that have been in orbit for years," he said. "There are 100,000 objects in space, orbiting around the Earth, that they continuously track. We have meteorite detectors that constantly watch the sky, tracking meteorites that enter the atmosphere."

This debris orbiting Earth, he said, is a combination of man-made items and fragments of comets that have entered the atmosphere.

"The Russians used to put up several satellites a month," Hubisz said. "There are parked satellites up there, going round and round and round."

So with these two systems working to detect every piece of debris in Earth's vicinity, Hubisz it would be extremely difficult for anything to fly under the radar.

"If something entered the Earth's atmosphere, someone probably would have seen it," he said.

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