There have been countless reports of alien visitors and the crafts which bring them to Earth. So far, however, none of the accounts have included a verified living creature, nor have we been able to examine their means of transport. No known extraterrestrials live among us, nor are any flying saucers housed in the Smithsonian.
Most putative alien beings are described as somewhat akin to us – bipedal, four limbs, eyes, some semblance of a nose and mouth. But others are said to look like robots and one even resembled a giant blue grasshopper. Despite these varieties, some people conclude that they all mean we are not alone. Like the ETs, the vehicles they pilot also have varying descriptions: A saucer, triangle, ball, lighted orb, and even a floating building.
There have been UFO sightings for millennia and how they have been perceived depended on the time and culture. More than 2,000 years ago, Roman historian Livy considered them to be phantom ships. In the First Century, Roman soldiers thought they were seeing armed angels riding chariots. Stargazers in Shakespeare’s time concluded that unexplained floating lights were fairies, angels, leprechauns, or incubus. By the time humans themselves were taking to the sky, the same unexplained phenomenon had transformed into highly intelligent alien life.
Most believers go with this interpretation, though others consider the creatures to be interdimensional beings, ghosts, or demons. Then there are those, such as your blogger, who think the answer lies with human error and misperception. The number and diversity of sightings, combined with still no verified contact, suggests psychology is more in play than intergalactic travel. The mind tries to figure out what it can’t understand, and because of our aversion to randomness and preference for pattern, we plug into the gaps whatever explanation we can finagle. With UFOs, those answers have evolved with the time.
If aliens were making regular treks here, professional astronomers, whose job is to use the world’s best telescopes to study the skies, would be witnessing the great majority of such visits. Instead, almost all of putative encounters are reported by those without training in astronomy, atmospherics, aeronautics, physics, or optometry.
Moreover, sightings are influenced by the conditions in which they are observed. Bright stars and planets may become UFOs due to their being watched from a moving car, making it seem they are keeping pace with the vehicle. However, to determine the size, speed, or distance of a presumed craft, one needs to know at least one of those variables. If all are unclear, the viewer is reduced to groundless speculation.
Additionally, a star or planet’s apparent ability to dart, wobble, or zigzag, and to change color rapidly is explained by a natural, involuntary jerking eye movement called auto-kinesis. Also a factor is scintillation, which are variations in the apparent brightness or position of a faraway luminous object. This effect is more pronounced when looking through binoculars or telescopes. It is caused by refraction of different wavelengths, which make an eye or lens think there are changes in motion or color.
Besides seemingly-moving stars and planets, the Identified Flying Objects known as airplanes can take on a saucer shape if viewed head-on and can be misinterpreted as alien craft. They can also move side-to-side, climb vertically, descend, and quickly change direction, which can make the plane take on otherworldly appearances under the right circumstances. Additionally, rows of anti-collision lights on the wings blink sequentially, which can create an illusion of rotation.
Then there are meteors, balloons, satellites, searchlights, flares, and ball lighting, all of which can also be taken to be an alien transport system, due to the auto-kinetic effect, scintillation, psychology, human error, and ignorance.
Planets, stars, meteors, and ball lightning are all fascinating enough by themselves that there’s no reason to fabricate awesomeness about them. And satellites, balloons, airplanes, and telescopes were the result of persons being inspired enough by reality and what was possible that they used this as a drive to further Mankind. With enough of that spirit, maybe someday instead of inventing tales of piloted space travel, we will be doing it.