Have you seen any flying saucers lately? Many people think they have. Even now, reports of mysterious sightings are circulating in the press and on Internet forums.
The modern UFO boom began in June 1947 when a businessman named Kenneth Arnold reported that while piloting a private plane he had seen nine saucer-shaped objects flying over Mount Rainier in Washington. Later that years there were rumours of a flying saucer crash in Roswell, New Mexico. According to a popular but false conspiracy theory, US Air Force obtained the corpse of a saucer pilot but covered up the discovery.
The strained relations between the east and west that became to be known as the cold war had just begun and the political atmosphere was conductive to conspiratorial rumours. The number of UFO observations exceeded 850 by the end of 1947.
Later, for instance the Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and former US president Jimmy Carter have disclosed seeing a UFO.
So what are UFOs? A UFO is an unidentified flying object. Most sightings have a natural explanation, such as a landing airplane, satellite or meteor. Some are hoaxes. But for the ardent UFO fans, some are genuine alien spaceships.
However, UFOs cannot originate from the other planets of our own solar system since scientists have failed to find any evidence of life or little green men on Mars or Venus. The nearest star outside our solar system, Proxima Centauri , is 4.2 light years from us. A space ship travelling at the speed of light would thus take 4.2 years to reach us. Many researchers think that space travel between solar systems is impossible.
Moreover, while a number of Earth-like rocky exoplanets or planets orbiting other stars have been discovered, they are either too large or too hot. It is very improbable that UFOs hail from "super Earths" such as Gliese 581 c , which is hotter than Venus.
It seems that there are some religious ingredients in UFO sightings. For some, belief in UFOs has superseded the belief in biblical Christianity. Little green men are seen as the new age saviours who will prevent earthlings from destroying themselves and their planet.
According to Gary Bates, the author of Alien Intrusion (2004), UFOs often have an evolutionary connection. If life evolved on earth by purely naturalistic means, it should also have evolved on other planets. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project is an attempt to prove that we are not as special as we think.
Carl Sagan believed that the Earth was just a tiny pale blue dot in the vast cosmos. However, as Guillermo Gonzales and Jay W. Richards write in The Privileged Planet, our planet is anything but ordinary. Our planet looks as though it was designed for life. At best, we can only speculate about other worlds.
We might never get proof of the existence of little green men for a rather simple reason: there might not be any.