UFO Sightings: Latest Data Shows Western U.S. Clear ‘Hot Spot’ For UAP Reports

For decades, Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), now officially referred to as Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP), have captured the public’s imagination. From the infamous Roswell incident in 1947 to the recent congressional hearings where retired Navy commander David Fravor testified about a mysterious Tic Tac-shaped object he observed in 2004, UAP have transitioned from fringe conspiracy theories to a serious topic of scientific inquiry and national security concern.

As Fravor recounted in his testimony, “This [Tic Tac-shaped object that] had just traveled 60 miles in…less than a minute, was far superior in performance to my brand-new F/A-18F and did not operate with any of the known aerodynamic principles that we expect for objects that fly in our atmosphere.” His riveting account underscores the need to understand these phenomena better.

Unclassified image of UAP sighting over the Western U.S. in October 2023 federal report.
Unclassified image of UAP sighting over the Western U.S. in October 2023 federal report. (Credit: Department of Defense)

A new study led by geographers at the University of Utah aims to shed light on the environmental factors that may influence UAP sightings. The researchers analyzed approximately 98,000 sighting reports from the National UFO Research Center over a 20-year period (2001-2020). They examined two key conditions for each county in the contiguous U.S.: sky view potential (light pollution, cloud cover, and tree canopy cover) and the potential for objects to be present in the sky (proximity to airports and military installations).

The study found that the majority of sightings occurred in the western U.S., likely due to the region’s vast open spaces and dark skies. Hot spots for UAP reports were credibly related to air traffic and military activity, suggesting that people are indeed spotting real objects but may not be able to identify them.

Map showing UAP (UFO) hotspots in the U.S.
Hotspot analysis of reported sightings from 2001 to 2020. (Credit: Medina, Brewer & Kirkpatrick. Sci Rep (2023))

“The idea is that if you have a chance to see something, then it’s more likely that you’re going to see unexplained phenomena in the sky,” explained Richard Medina, lead author of the study and associate professor of geography at the University of Utah, in a media release. “There’s more technology in the sky than ever before so the question is: What are people actually seeing? It’s a tough question to answer, and it is an important one because any uncertainty can be a potential threat to national security.”

The authors emphasize that understanding the environmental context of these sightings can help find explanations for their occurrence and identify truly anomalous objects that may pose a legitimate threat.

UAP (UFO) sighting timeline
Timeline of the National UFO Research Center reported sightings from 2001 to 2020. (Credit: Medina, Brewer & Kirkpatrick. Sci Rep (2023))

Historically, academia has been hesitant to study UAP due to the stigma associated with flying saucers and extraterrestrial visitors. However, the establishment of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO) in 2022 by the U.S. Department of Defense signals a shift in attitude and a concerted effort to investigate these phenomena seriously.

While many UAP sightings can be attributed to natural phenomena like the planet Venus or the increasing presence of spacecraft and personal drones in our skies, the challenge lies in identifying reports that indicate a real threat. The authors of the study are also exploring temporal and sociocultural factors that may influence sighting reports, such as the popularity of TV shows like “The X-Files” or significant events like the recent congressional hearings.

“The U.S. government—the military, intelligence and civil agencies—needs to understand what is in the operating domains to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its people,” said Sean Kirkpatrick, the first director of the AARO and a co-author of the study, in the release. Unknowns are unacceptable in this age of ubiquitous sensors and data availability. The scientific community has a responsibility to investigate and educate.”

In July of 2023, retired commander in the U.S. Navy David Fravor testified to the House Oversight Committee about a mysterious, Tic Tac-shaped object that he and three others observed over the Pacific Ocean in 2004, off the coast of San Diego. According to his testimony, the object traveled 60 miles per hour in less than a minute and “did not operate with any of the known aerodynamic principles that we expect for objects that fly in our atmosphere.” His crew captured the Tic Tac-shaped Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) on video. This is one of three videos that the U.S. military declassified and approved for public release in April of 2020. It’s the only official footage captured by a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet that was present at the “2004 Nimitz Incident,” named for the USS Nimitz aircraft carriers on which Fravor’s U.S. Navy fighter jet was based. (Credit: United States Navy)

This latest study, published in Scientific Reports, marks yet another important step in unraveling the mystery of UAP sightings. By applying rigorous scientific methods and analyzing comprehensive data, researchers are working to separate fact from fiction and provide valuable insights into these enigmatic phenomena. As our skies become increasingly crowded with advanced technology, understanding UAP is not only a matter of curiosity but also a crucial aspect of national security.

The truth, as they say, is out there—and it may lie in the data.

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