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Does Unexplained Aerial Phenomena Exist? Yes, And It Remains One of History’s Greatest Mysteries

Unexplained aerial phenomena represent a mystery that has occurred throughout time, and one which remains as difficult to define today as it likely was for ancient observers.

To qualify this statement right here at the outset, by “unexplained aerial phenomena” I don’t necessarily mean only what the United States Air Force began calling unidentified flying objects (UFOs) during the 1950s, based on sightings that Americans and others around the world began to report during and after World War II, and which the Navy is currently tasked with evaluating.

To the contrary, mysterious aerial phenomena have a variety of different possible sources. Whatever these sources may be, the human experience of observing things in the sky that we can’t explain is a time-honored tradition, with historical roots going back to antiquity; but we’ll come back around to that aspect of the mystery shortly.

Modern sightings of odd aerial phenomena, while often having prosaic explanations, nonetheless do appear to sometimes involve structured, technological devices that are apparently under intelligent control. When modern proponents of UFO or UAP studies talk about unexplained aerial phenomena, generally most accept this to be referencing these purported aerial objects, which, although still unexplained, are often taken as possible evidence of extraterrestrial visitation.

This extraterrestrial hypothesis has certain merits, and even since the early days of the “modern” UFO era (beginning sometime between around 1943 and 1947), there have been several studies by both government and civilian groups that have left open the possibility that some of the aerial phenomena in question might belong to extraterrestrials. This has remained a problem for scientists though, who often evoke the ire of UFO proponents for taking the position—and rightly so—that there is not yet enough evidence to support such conclusions.

“That there is simply nothing else these objects could be other than ET is not evidence,” would be a statement along the lines of what many scientists have echoed in recent days. This, even amidst government assessments like the one delivered to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in June 2021 by the U.S. Navy’s UAP Task Force, which acknowledged that something which remains unidentified appears to be operating in our skies.

Several kinds of “somethings”, in fact. According to the UAP Task Force’s Preliminary Assessment, there are several categories the Task Force identifies as areas into which observations of what the military terms unexplained aerial phenomena, or UAP, fall. These range from “airborne clutter,” to technological devices that might belong to nations like Russia or China. Natural phenomena like plasmas, the likes of which a study carried out between 1997 and 2000 in the United Kingdom, Project Condign, determined UAP to be were also included in the UAP Task Force report. At no place in the brief document do words like “extraterrestrial,” “alien,” or “interplanetary” appear, although even the New York Times noted the fact that the report was worded vaguely enough that even their omission seemed to leave open for such possibilities.

To summarize, unexplained aerial phenomena have been studied seriously for decades, and we have been able to draw no significant, evidence-based conclusions about their nature and origins. Nonetheless, it appears that something exists in our skies, although it remains open to interpretation as far as determining what kind of phenomenon, or more likely, what varieties of phenomena, they might represent.

Looking further back in time, it seems likely that ancient observers throughout the world probably saw some of these objects too. From historical accounts, we can identify cases where it is likely that ancient recordings of marvels in the sky had simply been celestial phenomena like planetary convergences, the arrivals of comets, supernovae, and other occurrences witnessed by people in earlier cultures.

Modern astronomy software that allows us to calculate where celestial objects would have appeared in the sky at virtually any point throughout history are remarkably useful in unraveling the mystery behind some of these ancient cases. There are, however, also more curious sightings that have been logged since antiquity, which continue to baffle astronomers in search of celestial explanations. The next most likely culprits thereafter are meteorological or atmospheric occurrences, and engravings from the middle ages often depicted “wonders” that are obvious depictions of things like parhelion or “sun dogs”, or possible representations of things like ball lightning which remain little understood today.

Bill Fox BML

An enhanced photo that may depict an anomalous light similar to ball lightning rising over Table Rock in the Linville Gorge Wilderness, North Carolina, taken in 2009 by researcher Bill Fox (Credit: Bill Fox).

Nonetheless, there are accounts of things from prior to the modern UFO era that appear to describe aircraft or objects that don’t easily fall into known categories of natural phenomena, and yet which can’t be recognized as any known technologies of their period, either. Chief among these are the stories of airships that became prevalent during the 1890s over parts of America, with similar waves of sightings occurring over the United Kingdom, Australia, and other parts of the world in the decades that followed. Although newspaper hoaxes are known to have occurred during those days—the “fake news” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries—many researchers find it difficult to imagine that all reports of what people called airships had been concocted by bored writers at the daily papers, who were either looking for laughs or simply desperate for generating attention among their readerships.

If he were alive today, another man of the aforementioned era, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, might have erred to the judgment of the great detective he created: Sherlock Holmes. “Once you eliminate the impossible,” Holmes is quoted saying in The Sign of Four (1890), “whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Modern scientists would likely deem this statement tantamount to the logic behind supposing that UFOs are ET, “because there just isn’t any better explanation.” Still, there is wisdom in the words of Doyle’s great detective, and although the mystery of unexplained aerial phenomena and its many possible varieties still eludes us, it seems rather difficult to dismiss it completely out of hand… whether some of them are extraterrestrial or not.

What remains is that something is being seen in our skies, and has been for a long time. Unidentified aerial phenomena exist, in other words…  and however improbable that might seem to some, there is no extraordinary claim or wild supposition required in recognizing this fundamental fact as being the truth.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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