Above: photo credit: Possible ball lightning in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Joe Thomissen via Wikimedia Commons.
An international team is trying to create a systematic and rigorous approach to studying unexplained aerial phenomena, commonly known as UFOs.
The non-profit organization is called UFO Detection and Tracking, (UFODATA) and it seeks to construct a large network of surveillance stations to monitor the skies 24/7 using optical and infrared cameras, sound and ultrasound detectors, weather stations, Geiger counters, and magnetometers.
“[…] we are going to use astrophysical methodology in order to carry out research on light anomalies appearing in our atmosphere, where we expect to obtain an optimum signal-to-noise ratio due to the predictably high luminosity of the phenomenon and its relative closeness to the observer,” Astrophysicist Massimo Teodorani, a member of the UFODATA science team, said in a statement. “In such a way – with precise numbers in our hands – we are in a condition to select very carefully truly anomalous cases from cases that can be explained by prosaic causes.”
Aerial anomalies almost always have a very mundane explanation behind them: planets, stars, meteors, weather balloons, planes, and atmospheric events are often responsible for what might appear mysterious at first. However, the team plan to focus on those events that are less easy to scientifically explain, and show what they could be.
A scientific approach of this type would provide a rational answer to various UFO phenomena, as well as potentially delivering a large amount of data regarding our atmosphere. It could also provide data on rare and unusual atmospheric episodes such as ball lightning.
The last few years have seen a dramatic change in how UFOs are reported. The availability of smartphones and image manipulation software has seemingly increased the number of fake reports from fame-seekers, with many videos purporting to show extraterrestrial phenomena easily dismissed as fabricated on closer inspection.
“It has become clear that any breakthrough in our understanding of the UFO phenomenon will require a break from the past,” added Mark Rodeghier, leader of the project. “Witness testimony, photos and videos, and government documents have taken us only so far; instead, we need to record and study UFOs directly, as other sciences do with their own specific objects. Of course, this is a daunting task, but it is made conceivable by advances in technology, software, communication capabilities, and power sources.”
More information regarding the project can be found on the UFODATA website.