From a fuzzy image of what seemed to be an airship taken in New Hampshire in 1870 to the baffling videos captured by US Navy pilots released by the Pentagon in 2020, hundreds of photos, and later film clips, of unexplained flying objects have been published.
Some are obvious fakes. Many can be explained as camera faults or tricks of the light.
But a few defy explanation.
As part of our Spaced Out season, we have collected some of the most iconic images of close encounters in recent history – do any of these convince you? Let other Daily Star readers know in the comments below…
The Belgian UFO Wave, 1989-1990
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From November 1989 to April 1990, a sustained wave of UFO sightings took place in the skies over Belgium.
Over 13,000 people witnessed what they claimed were huge, triangular flying objects floating low in the sky.
The objects, whatever they were, were detected by military radar and on the night of March 30 1990, two Belgian Air Force F-16 fighters were scrambled to investigate the intruder.
The flight turned out to be inconclusive, with the pilots unable to visually confirm the existence of the radar target and, while they apparently established a radar lock on the mystery aircraft, later investigation suggests the experienced fighter pilots may have inadvertently established a radar lock on each other.
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Despite the huge number of sightings, just one fuzzy photograph of the strange craft exists. It was taken by JS Henrardi on June 15, 1990, but not posted online until 2003, 13 years later.
Unlike the saucer-shaped UFOs we’re more used to seeing, the Belgian Wave image shows a wedge-shaped aircraft reminiscent of descriptions of the US Air Force’s semi-mythical Project Aurora spy plane. Could the Belgian sighting have been a secret weapons test?
Star rating: 6/10. So many people saw the objects, they can't just have been clouds or misidentified planets. But only one photo in all that time?
The Washington DC Flap, 1952
The rash of UFO sightings above the US capital came just five years after a search-and-rescue pilot named Kenneth Arnold had kick-started the “flying saucer” phenomenon by reporting nine "saucer-like things…flying like geese in a diagonal chainlike line" at speeds exceeding 1,000 mph near Mount Rainier in the Pacific north-west.
Strange bright lights were seen in the vicinity of the White House, and Edward Nugent, an air traffic controller at Washington National Airport, reported seeing seven high-speed objects on his radar scope executing manoeuvres that were “completely radical compared to those of ordinary aircraft”.
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Dozens more sightings were made over the capital that summer, many of them confirmed on radar.
On several occasions US Air Force F-94 Starfire fighters were sent to intercept the intruders, but whatever the mystery objects were, they disappeared when the jets came near.
In response, Air Force Major Generals John Samford, USAF Director of Intelligence, and Roger Ramey, USAF Director of Operations, held a press conference at the Pentagon on July 29.
They told a packed room of reporters that all the reports could be explained by a weather phenomenon called “temperature inversion” which could fool radar into seeing things that weren’t there, combined with the misidentification of stars and meteors.
Star rating: 5/10. The sightings occurred at the peak of the first great UFO panic, and many of the were undoubtedly misidentifications of natural phenomena. But anything that appears on radar as well needs to be taken seriously.
The Lubbock Lights – 1951
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A V-shaped wave of lights – either a large number of small objects flying in formation or one large delta-winged object – cruised over the heads of three university professors who were sitting in the back yard of a Texas house one August evening in 1951.
A few days later college student Carl Hart, Jr. saw the same lights. He went into his parents’ home and picked up a camera in the hope that the lights might return. Incredibly, they did and Hart managed to get five photos of the mystery objects which he sold to his local paper.
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Hart’s photos are particularly noteworthy because they come from an era when photo editing was much less common than it is today, and it’s unlikely that Hart could have faked the images.
Edward J. Ruppelt, the supervisor of the US Air Force's UFO research program, Project Blue Book, released a written statement to the press that “the photos were never proven to be a hoax, but neither were they proven to be genuine."
Star rating: 4/10. The witnesses were credible, and the explanation that it was just streetlights reflecting off migrating ducks frankly ludicrous, but a US Air Force prototype seems a more likely culprit.
The Battle of Los Angeles – 1942
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In February 1942, with the whole of America on the alert for a repeat of the previous December’s Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, observers spotted a large slow-moving object above Los Angeles.
With war nerves running rampant, a huge barrage of anti-aircraft artillery focused on the object for over an hour. The 37th Coast Artillery Brigade’s .50-caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells guns fired almost continuously at the suspected intruder.
Over 1,400 shells were reportedly fired, and falling shrapnel caused significant property damage.
No Japanese aircraft was ever located, and after the war a search of Imperial Japanese Navy records revealed that no raid had ever been launched at the US mainland.
A photo published on the cover of the Los Angeles Times the following day showed the Coast Artillery Brigade’s searchlights converging on a large object that some UFOlogists claim was an alien spacecraft.
The photo had been, as was standard practice at the time, retouched to improve its clarity which makes any modern analysis of exactly what the anti-aircraft batteries had been firing at almost impossible.
In 1949, an official report concluded that the object that had started the panic was almost certainly a stray weather balloon. No debris from either the balloon, Japanese bombers, or alien spacecraft was ever found.
Star rating: 1/10. Any interstellar craft under fire from even the most primitive weaponry would surely have moved out of range or – more worryingly – have fired back.
The Pentagon UAP Videos – 2004-2015
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Bringing our list right up to date comes a notorious series of gun-camera videos from US Navy fighter planes.
The first of the videos was captured by Commander David Fravor, the pilot of an F/A-18 Super Hornet based on the nuclear-powered super carrier USS Nimitz.
Scrambled to investigate reports of an anomalous aircraft buzzing the USS Princeton, another ship in the Nimitz strike group, Fravor said he could see forty-foot long oval-shaped white object that his wingman, Commander Chad Underwood memorably described as looking like a “Tic Tac” hovering over a “disturbance” in the water.
Fravour said that he, Underwood, and both of the weapons systems operators sitting behind them in their two-seater fighters saw the same object. Underwood recorded a short video of the “UAP” using his plane’s infra-red FLIR camera.
Explanations for the bizarre sighting include simple pilot error, where the flyers misinterpreted weather balloons or passenger aircraft seen from unusual angles, or possibly drones operated by a hostile government.
Physicist Adam Frank suggested that the UAPs could be “drones deployed by rivals like Russia and China to examine our defences — luring our pilots into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus revealing (The US Navy’s) electronic intelligence capabilities”.
Star rating: 9/10. Too many trained military fliers saw the objects for them to have been just an optical illusion. But are the UFOs alien in origin? The jury's out…
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