What are UFOs?

Because UFOs are by definition unidentified, the technical answer to the question "What are UFOs?" is "we don't know". We can however make some educated guesses based on a sighting's description. Unfortunately many UFO reports are lacking enough detail to make a good guess, so if you want to record or report a sighting, read how to report a UFO.

In my experience UFO sightings can be roughly divided into three groups:

  1. One third have confirmed simple explanations, so they are no longer classed as UFOs.
  2. One third do fit the profile of a known explanation but cannot be confirmed, so are technically still UFOs but not of great interest.
  3. One third have no good explanation at all. These are the ones that get my attention.

Common explanations

Here's a list of some well-known explanations for UFOs. It's not a complete list, just the ones I come across most often:

Note: It's very difficult to judge the size, distance and speed of objects in the sky at night. They can trick you easily.

What about sightings that don't fit any known explanation?

Sometimes "we don't know" is the only honest answer. The problem is that humans don't like it as an answer—we're hard-wired to insist on at least some possible answers. When we can't find a simple answer we start looking for more complex or unlikely ones. This behaviour is understandable but problematic as it often leads to unlikely answers being promoted as the only possible answer, when the truth is still "we don't know".

A common mistake is to assume that just because a UFO is not an identifiable earthly object then it must be from another world or dimension. This is wrong, there are actually two possibilities: (1) it's an unidentified earthly object or phenomena, or (2) it's from another world or dimension. Even in the case of very strange sightings, history and scientific principles tell us that the first possibility is more likely to be true than the second. There's certainly no reason to think that just because an object is unidentified it must be alien.

Could they be aliens?

It's possible but I think it's unlikely. I do believe that aliens probably exist out there somewhere (see the Drake Equation), I just doubt whether they've ever been to Earth. For a detailed discussion about this you'll need to come to one of my shows but in the meantime here are a few things to consider:

None of this means that we can rule out alien visitations. It's not impossible at all. It's just that there are a whole lot of factors against it and precious few in favour.

Some of you will think I'm being closed-minded or too pessimistic. I'm not, I've just reached this viewpoint after many years studying astronomy and spaceflight with a side interest in UFOs. I'd love to be proven wrong. No one wants an alien visitation more than me, but until there's some hard quality evidence I'm forced to believe it probably hasn't happened.