If you’ve ever looked up at the sky and wondered if there’s life on other planets, you’re not alone. Countless people around the world have reported unidentified flying objects (UFOs) over the past few decades; in fact, sightings can be traced back millennia to drawings and references in ancient texts. While many sightings and encounters of the third kind may be explained through natural phenomena, weather balloons, or scientific experiments, there still remain reports that have not been completely discredited.
Stacker has compiled a list of the authentic, the outrageous, and the out-of-this-world alleged abductions, interactions, and sightings that have shaped popular culture. Getting past the nitty-gritty, the list is based on the number of reports, the authenticity of data. and credibility of each story. Read on to see if these stories are believable or total hoaxes.
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Considered the catalyst for modern interest in UFO sightings, Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine strange objects flying around the Cascade Mountains to the East Oregonian. The ensuing article sparked national interest in the alleged UFOs that were described as flying in formation, between 9,500-10,000 feet in elevation and traveling about 1,200 miles per hour—far faster than any plane in use commercially or by the military.
Farmer William Brazel found scraps of wreckage and debris on his ranch in the summer of 1947, and reported the occurrence to authorities. This prompted soldiers from a nearby military base to remove the materials. The army’s involvement, coupled with the nature of the wreckage, lead to news headlines alleging that the U.S. government was attempting to cover up a UFO wreck. It was revealed 50 years later that the debris was from a covert weather balloon constructed to spy on the USSR’s nuclear program.
On August 25, 1951, three professors from Texas Tech reported sightings of an unusual formation of lights over Lubbock, TX. Similar sightings were reported over the next few days in neighboring towns, and Texas Tech freshman Carl Hart Jr. managed to snap a few pictures of the phenomenon. Extensive studies from Project Blue Book determined these observations to be light from street lamps bouncing off the reflective feathers of birds in flight, but many dismissed this explanation, alleging that the lights were moving too fast to be birds.
Kentucky Air National Guard pilot Captain Thomas Mantell was sent to investigate a UFO sighted near Fort Knox on January 7, 1948. Mantell’s pursuit ended in flames—the pilot pursued the object at too high an altitude, blacked out from lack of oxygen and spiraled out of control. The government later revealed that the UFO was, in fact, another classified weather balloon from Project Skyhook. This explanation, however, did little to calm public nerves, and previous awe of the potential for extraterrestrial life began shifting to fear of an otherworldly hostile takeover.
The 1952 Washington, D.C. UFO incident, otherwise known as the Invasion of Washington, was a cluster of UFO sighting reports to Project Blue Book and the U.S. Air Force. Occurring over consecutive weekends in July, unknown radar returns and visual sightings of unexplained aircraft produced mounting waves of public hysteria, leading to a demand for explanations from President Truman. The Air Force credited the reports as heat wave mirages, misidentified stars, satellites and asteroids, and hallucinations, but later created the Robertson Panel to closely examine all findings by Project Blue Book.
The Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter is one of the first documented alleged encounters with extraterrestrial beings. Residents of a farmhouse arrived at a local police station on August 21, 1955, claiming that figures from a flying spaceship were attempting to gain access to their house. Police reported bullet holes in the sides of the home, but no evidence of the intruders. They ultimately credited meteors and Great Horned Owls as the alleged “little green men.”
The RB-47 high-altitude strategic bomber jet possessed the most advanced electronic intelligence equipment at the time, but was unprepared for a fly-by with a passing saucer, culminating in one of the most-discussed UFO sightings of the last century. In the early morning of July 17, 1957, the radar of an RB-47 over the southern U.S. picked up an unexplained blip before both the pilot and crew of the plane witnessed a blinding blue light. Authorities were quick to dismiss the sighting as an airliner, a claim quickly ridiculed by the public.
If you’ve ever seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, you’re familiar with the scene in which a passing UFO causes electronic equipment to go haywire in the cars below. This references a real-life report of extraterrestrial happenings in Levelland, TX, during which car engines and lights cut out as bright lights and rockets passed overhead. Investigating police officers experienced the same phenomenon, only to have Project Blue Book explain everything away as ball lightning during an electrical storm. Interestingly, there were no reports of either happening in that area at the time.
Betty and Barney Hill were a couple from New Hampshire who claim to have been abducted by aliens on the night of September 19, 1961. They say they were taken by short gray men in uniforms onto a saucer-like aircraft, and examined. After their release, the Hills struggled to recall the event, turning to hypnosis to fill in the gaps in their memories. These events are some of the most widely referenced in pop culture, with details from their accounts used in episodes of “The X Files” and “American Horror Story.”
Charles Hall, a former nuclear physicist and ex-military American weather specialist, alleges that he encountered white, human-like figures who enjoyed attending shows at nearby Caesar’s Palace while serving as a weather observationalist on the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The base has since closed, but that hasn’t stopped Hall from writing a book about the experience, and launching a press tour.
In Valensole, France, farmer Maurice Masse observed the touchdown of an oval structure standing on four legs in a nearby field on July 1, 1965. Walking towards it, he encountered two short gray figures with large, tapered heads and eyes who pointed an apparatus at him, freezing him in his tracks. The figures then flew the spacecraft away, leaving Masse frozen in place for twenty minutes. The story is considered a classic UFO encounter, with Masse’s good character confirmed by authorities in the area.
On December 9, 1965, in Kecksburg, PA, a large object streaked across the sky, seen by thousands in nearby counties and states. The object, described as a “clay acorn the size of a Volkswagen with Egyptian hieroglyphs running around the base,” crashed shortly outside of Kecksburg only to be immediately secured by soldiers. The military claimed that nothing had crashed or been removed, and that all reports to the contrary were false. Many associate the event with the Roswell UFO crash, going as far to dub it “Pennsylvania’s Roswell.”
Documented by Raymond Fowler in his book, "The Andreasson Affair", Betty Andreasson’s abduction occurred in January of 1967 in South Ashburnham, MA. Like many other abduction tales, Andreasson claims that she and her family were enjoying a calm evening before seeing blinking lights that were then followed by short, gray-skinned life forms with pear-shaped heads and large, cat-like eyes. Andreasson was put into a trance and taken aboard the aliens’ ship where she was examined and told the meaning of life, then had her memory erased. These memories were recalled under hypnosis.
Logger Travis Walton and six workmates reported seeing a shimmery silver saucer on November 5, 1975, in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest near Snowflake, Arizona. The workmates fled as the saucer flew closer, leaving Walton by himself to be abducted and missing for five days after the report. Walton’s story is considered by most to be false, as there were several discrepancies in both his and his workmates’ accounts of the tale.
The Tehran UFO incident occurred on September 19, 1976 after reports from concerned citizens of a bright light in the sky. Two F-4 fighter jets were released at different times that night to investigate the occurrence, with the first returning to base shortly after departure due to a total blackout of equipment while approaching the unidentified light. The pilot of the second F-4 achieved radar lock on the light before the UFO released a streak of light. As the pilot prepared to engage, all systems and equipment malfunctioned. U.S. Air Force section chief Lieutenant Colonel Olin Mooy was consulted, and provided an explanation: the light had been Jupiter, which was unusually bright that night, the planes had simply been faulty and the streaking light had been an errant meteor from a passing shower.
One of the few encounters with UFOs to result in civil court proceedings, the Cash-Landrum incident occurred on the evening of December 29, 1980, outside of Dayton, TX as Betty Cash and Vickie and Colby Landrum were driving home from dinner. The witnesses allege that they saw a diamond-shaped spacecraft burst into flames, expelling a tremendous amount of heat as it struggled to remain in the air. Cash observed it for some time before it was able to right itself and return to higher altitudes, where it was then surrounded by helicopters later identified as tandem-rotor CH-47 Chinooks. Health problems akin to ionizing radiation later arose in all three witnesses, leading them to sue the U.S. government for $20 million. The case was later dismissed for lack of evidence that the tandem-rotor CH-47 Chinooks were related to the U.S. government.
On June 30, 1983, hundreds of basketball-sized lights were reported around a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana, leaving unusual marks behind. The Copley Woods encounters are the inspiration behind Budd Hopkins’ novel "Intruders," in which the author interviews those with similar abduction stories.
More recently, the USS Nimitz UFO incident occurred on November 14, 2004, when Commander David Fravor and Lieutenant Commander Jim Slaight were investigating a nearby UFO during a routine training mission. The pilots then observed a 40-foot oblong ship that flew erratically at 80,000 feet before dropping down to 50 feet above the ocean. The ship approached the U.S. jet, then sped away as the two pilots pursued, ultimately returning to the USS Nimitz.
The Morristown UFO sighting on January 1, 2009, involved reports of five red lights in the sky. Two men later took credit for the lights, claiming that they had been conducting a social experiment to prove the faultiness in eyewitness accounts for such an event.
Reports on October 23, 2010, of large, cigar-shaped flying ships over the missile silos of Warren Air Force Base coincided with troubling reports of more than 50 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles going offline. Concern grew over nearly one-tenth of the U.S. missile stockpile going black, but the event was soon uncovered to be computer problems, rather than extraterrestrial interference.
Several individuals reported sightings of a saucer-like object floating over Vancouver, on February 20, 2011, which remained unsolved for months. The UFO was revealed to be a Chinese-made kite made of parachute fabric embedded with hundreds of multi-color LED lights in a triangle shape, standing 7 1/2 feet tall with a wingspan of 13 feet.
On August 11, 2014, many called in sightings of a ring of flashing lights flying in a thunderstorm. What makes this unique? Someone caught the ring of lights on camera, and though the body of the UFO is transparent, the ring is clearly captured. When asked for an explanation, image, and video, analyst Marc Dantonio explained that if footage of the event was examined separately, one could see it was only mall lights in the distance.
Several sightings of unknown objects were reported to the Breckenridge police force on October 3, 2014, though authorities did little other than observing the phenomenon for themselves. No official investigation was ever launched, but several speculated that the lights were high-altitude balloons or Google Loons, giant balloons the company planned on using to bring wireless internet to rural communities.
On March 30, 2018 two pilots reported the same unidentified flying object passing over their planes in two different locations. Both pilots requested to know if there were any scheduled flights overhead of their pre-planned routes, to discover there were none. Authorities are still attempting to explain how the same UFO could be observed by two different planes within minutes of each other.
Long Island has become a hotspot for UFO sightings over the last decade, with the number of reported events in Suffolk County on the rise. A cluster of yellow lights flying over Sand’s Point has caught the public’s attention, though police and other investigators are still struggling to explain the sightings.