Alien Sightings: Probing the Influx of UFO Reports

By: Diana Brown & Desiree Bowie  | 
UFO aliens
Will we ever find all of the answers to the myriad of questions regarding UFO sightings? Ann Cutting/Getty Images

For centuries, people have been reporting sightings of strange objects in the sky — unidentified flying objects (though UAP is the term du jour). These events continue to captivate the world. In April 2023, alien sightings began trending on social media after a Las Vegas family called emergency services claiming that a UFO crashed near their house, and two aliens were spotted hiding in the shadows. Their report still hasn't been substantiated, which is pretty common.

In fact, no eyewitness account of a UFO has been satisfactorily proven to be alien. So if these objects aren't extraterrestrial, what are people seeing in the skies, and would determining where the most frequent sightings occur provide clues?


That's what Matt, Ben and Noel at "Stuff They Don't Want You To Know" wondered, so they decided to tackle it in this episode. Let's take a closer look.

What Do These Flying Objects Look Like?

UFOs often present as aerial phenomena that defy easy explanation. Descriptions vary, with common reports highlighting shapes ranging from a saucer-like object equipped with a very bright light to glowing orbs. Witnesses frequently note peculiar flight patterns and unusual speeds in their sightings.

Here are some of the reported descriptions of common types.


Flying Saucers

Classic and widely recognized, flying saucers are generally described as having a flat disc or oval shape, resembling two pie plates stuck together. The flying saucer is often associated with a metallic or luminescent surface, reflecting sunlight in a manner that can be quite conspicuous.

Sightings sometimes include details of rotating sections, a pulsating bright light or an enveloping aura that seems otherworldly and travels at a tremendous speed.

Cigar-Shaped UFOs

These UFOs are typically elongated and cylindrical, sometimes compared to airships without the traditional means of propulsion. Witnesses often report them moving with a steady, unwavering motion and occasionally hovering silently. Their lack of wings, propellers or visible means of propulsion often confuse observers.

Triangular UFOs

Known for their distinct three-cornered shape, these UFOs are often reported to be black or dark in color, making them particularly visible against the night sky.

Silent movement and slow, deliberate navigation characterize many reports. Lights, often white or red, may be reported at the vertices, occasionally pulsating or shifting in intensity.

Spherical/Orb UFOs

Spherical UFOs tend to be characterized by their simple, yet enigmatic, ball-like appearance, frequently depicted as radiating light. This egg-shaped object is often noted to move in erratic patterns, capable of sudden stops, starts and changes in direction.

Some reports detail them exhibiting a sort of playful behavior, darting away when approached.

Coordinated Light Formations

This involves multiple lights, often varying in color, moving in patterns or synchronized manners across the sky. Observers occasionally describe them forming shapes, splitting apart or merging, suggesting some level of controlled interaction.

They often defy traditional flight patterns, contributing to their mysterious nature.


First UFO Sightings

Reports vary on when the first reported UFO sighting in North America really was. Some claim the first mystery aircraft was in Portland, Oregon, in 1905, while others say Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop wrote about seeing UFOs in the skies above 17th-century Boston.

One thing is certain: The UFO phenomenon is showing no sign of slowing down. There have been more than 120,000 reported sightings since the early 20th century, according to the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), and a massive spike in reportings since the 1980s. That decade there were around 5,000 sightings; in 2010 it jumped to 45,000.


Overall, there have been more than 170,000 UFO reports since NUFORC was founded in 1974.

What could have caused such a sharp increase? And more importantly, where are they happening? Apparently, UFO sightings are much more common in the United States and Canada, with 2,500 sightings per 10,000 people. The most sightings have been in California, which reported 16,000 between 2001 and 2017.


The California Connection

Why California? Could it be because noted alien enthusiast Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 lives there? Maybe, but more likely, it has something to do with the state's sheer size; with 38 million residents, it's so large that splitting it into two or even three new states has been proposed several times.

It also boasts a huge coastline, well-situated to observe strange lights or objects hovering out over the ocean. (Maybe intelligent life forms from other planets are as mesmerized by the ocean as we are?)


Beyond geography, California has significant ties to the U.S. government (and we all know how shady Big Brother is about some things, especially alien research). The state is home to 41 known military bases, and perhaps several secret ones as well. But it also borders Nevada, where the government has millions of acres of testing facilities.

Mistaking UFOs for New Tech

Could some, or even all, of these sightings be from secret tests of military — or private sector — technologies?

And speaking of technology , we have a lot of gadgets these days. Is it possible that something as ordinary as a drone could be mistaken for a UFO? They have blinking lights, and some can fly as high as 70,000 feet (21,336 meters) into the air.


In 2020 alone, U.S. dealers bought over $1.25 billion worth of consumer drones, making them an important consideration when analyzing UFO sightings.

These ideas may provide some solutions to a puzzling problem, but UFO sightings date back to antiquity, and there's still so much we don't know. Could UFOs simply be government technologies like stealth planes, high-altitude surveillance crafts and zeppelins? Or are they flying "craft" like hot-air balloons or Chinese lanterns?

If not, are these sightings really our galactic neighbors trying to find a way to say hello? You'll have to listen to the podcast to see what the guys have to say.


Unidentified Flying Objects Get a Government Rebrand

Historically, the term "UFO" has been utilized since the 1950s to describe sightings of mysterious objects in the sky. The U.S. government and various agencies typically employed this term in numerous reports and investigations into such phenomena.

However, in more recent times, notably around 2017, when a secret Pentagon program tasked with investigating UFO sightings was revealed, a terminological shift toward "UAP" (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) was observed.


This new acronym sought to provide a more scientifically neutral and broad descriptor, mitigating the extraterrestrial and speculative associations that "UFO" frequently conjured.

Subsequently, in December 2022, the terminology morphed once again, this time to "Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena," broadening the scope further to encapsulate unexplained occurrences not merely in Earth's atmosphere, but in outer space and marine environments as well, reflecting a more integrative approach to studying these mysterious occurrences.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.