Many objects have been mistaken for UFOs, from natural phenomena such
as lightning sprites and meteors, to experimental aircraft and weather balloons. The French UFO research group, GEIPAN, found that 3.5 per cent of sightings remained unidentified. Here are a few that, so far, have defied explanation.
Florence, Italy, 1954
In 1954, two local football clubs were playing in Florence, Italy, when the crowd stopped watching the game. Instead, around 10,000 fans were looking upwards at a strange craft.
It was described by witnesses as either cigar-or egg-shaped along with silvery-white threads falling from the sky. Samples mostly disintegrated on contact, but some were examined at the University of Florence and found to contain boron, silicon, calcium and magnesium.
While migrating spiders, which use webs as sails, were suggested as a rational answer to this aspect of the sighting, their silk is an organic compound and does not contain any of those elements.
Melbourne, Australia, 1966
Around 350 children and teachers at Westall High School in Melbourne, Australia, watched five planes surround a silvery flying-saucer-shaped UFO in 1966. The planes attempted to aerially herd the craft for about 20 minutes before it disappeared.
A UFO-themed play park commemorates the event and, to this day, witnesses meet once a year to discuss their experience.
USA and Mexico, 1997
In 1997, thousands of people reported lights across several hundred miles of night sky in Arizona and Nevada in the United States, and Sonora in Mexico. These lights were either stationary, or on a moving V-shaped craft in a triangular formation (artist’s impression above).
The United States Air Force stated that the lights over Phoenix were military flares but the V-shaped UFO remains a mystery.
Rendlesham Forest, UK, 1980
In December 1980, US airmen stationed at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, England were investigating reports of lights in Rendlesham Forest when they saw red and blue lights and a UFO land. It was described as around three metres high and three metres in diameter and appeared to be standing on fixed legs. The material of the craft was like ‘smooth, opaque black glass.’
The next day, indentations were seen on the ground and radiation levels recorded. On a separate night, another member of the US Air Force set out to disprove his colleagues with a tape recorder. He reported lights in the sky that looked ‘like an eye winking at you’ and observed ‘a beam coming down to the ground’. Three years later, the US government released a report that described the encounter, which has become known as Britain’s Roswell.
While there remain believers, psychologist Prof Chris French – who has also visited the site – is among many of those who are unconvinced. A local forester said the indentations were caused by rabbits, and the levels of radioactivity were not especially high. As for the lights? “I’ve heard the tape,” says French, “and the lights are in complete synchrony with Orfordness Lighthouse nearby.”
- This article first appeared in issue 357 of BBC Science Focus Magazine – find out how to subscribe here
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