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Do astronomers see UFOs?

by Phil Plait, Dec 30 2009

denver_ufoI have been saying for years that a) most UFOs are simply misidentified mundane phenomena (satellites, meteors, balloons, Venus, weird clouds, even the Moon) and that 2) if they were real, astronomers — who spend a lot more time looking at the sky than your average person — should be reporting most of them.

My musings on this have been twisted and distorted by UFO folks — shocker! — even though I’ve been pretty clear about what I would count as evidence. But now we may have a way to cut through the garbage. A new website has been started for professional and amateur astronomers to report Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. I rather like this new UAP acronym, since it avoids the UFO/flying saucer baggage. Anyway, it was set up as part of IYA 2009 to help astronomers report things in the sky they may not immediately understand. Better yet, it has links to handy guides that will help people who might otherwise misidentify normal things like sundogs and other weather phenomena.

The website is the brainchild of Philippe Ailleris:

Despite the controversy surrounding the topic, he believes that it is possible to approach the UAP field from a professional, rational, and scientific angle without any a priori. He considers that UAP studies my increase the scientific understanding of today poorly understood natural phenomenon, and ultimately he even sees the potential for Science to discover new unknown phenomena, therefore making such study invaluable. His research therefore focuses on attempting to raise the interest of the scientific community and to bridge various fields to devise what he believes is the necessary multidisciplinary approach to studying the phenomena.

I agree. As Carl Sagan said, whether UFOs are real and we’re being visited, or they’re a mass social phenomenon due to the way our brains work, either aspect is fascinating and worthy of actual study.

55 Responses to “Do astronomers see UFOs?”

  1. Sprawn says:

    I follow a lot of conspiracy theorists (chemtrails “theorists” in particular to start) as part of a project for which I am collecting information. “UAP” was very quickly picked up and propagated by people who want to associate UFOs with EVP (so-called “electronic voice phenomena” – i.e., listening to an empty recording until auditory pareidolia convinces the “researcher” that he’s hearing a voice). Be careful about apparently unattended baggage. As soon as a new term is invented to mean, “No we really mean this is a thing that we saw in the sky and we don’t know what it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s aliens,” people who’ve already made up their minds will simply adopt the term. But there’s no accounting for them, anyway, right? I mean, they’ll just believe what they want to believe no matter what. GO UAP!

  2. Sprawn says:

    Oh… and I just received “59 Seconds” in the mail. Congratulations on the American release!

  3. John says:

    I think calling them “unidentified aerial phenomena” is brilliant. If this actually caught on among legitimate astronomers, the study of the universe would end – every new object would simply be identified as an alien space ship hovering pointlessly in space, glowing all manner of wacky colors (as UFOs are wont to do, it seems), and astronomers could just move on! No new planets, astronomical phenomena, or anything.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    “UAP” will suffer from euphemism creep in a matter of months. “UFO” was originally a neutral, scientific term to distinguish the serious researchers from the “flying saucer” crackpots. Naturally the crackpots latched onto it like a homesick octopus. They’ll do the same with “UAP” — because there’s nothing crackpots LOVE more than new scientific-sounding jargon.

    I think the plan to help amateurs identify what they see is a great idea, but it has no chance in hell of stopping the crackpots. They see what they want to see, or invent it and lie. They ignore anything which doesn’t support what they wish to be true.

  5. Max says:

    UAP = Unmanned Aerial Platform

  6. Martin Shough says:

    The acronym UAP has actually been quite widely used for about 30 years and seems to have achieved a settled meaning in “ufology” where it is generally understood to signify possible novel geophysical phenomena such as EQL, ball-lightning type plasmas and other rare but probably natural atmsopheric effects. Maybe some pessimistic posters will be happily surprised.

  7. Michael Horn says:

    Regarding evidence, I quote Phil here, “I want some piece of predictive evidence …”

    Now I want to be very clear here. If you consider dated, copyrighted, published books to constitute a form of verifiable record of the information contained within them, and I trust that you do, I refer you to the article about Aphosis/The Red Meteor at my website.

    You will find therein one of numerous examples of verifiably previously published, specific, scientifically accurate information that is claimed to come from extraterrestrial sources.

    Now, I am familiar of course with the skeptical position, and attacks, etc., that have been and still are directed at our work, despite the fact that we demolished the skeptics at IIG, to whom we gave an unprecedented opportunity to prove their claim thaat the physical UFO evidence in the case was hoaxed using models.

    You’re certainly free to either try to continue those attacks or start new ones.

    However, I would prefer that we focus on the simple fact that we can, and will be delighted to, provide proof in the form of a number of published books that will be more than extremely difficult to rebut based on cool, objective facts.

    If anyone here would like to engage in this discussion I would be more than happy to do so, preferably in a friendly, good-spirited manner for the purpose of discovering the truth, wherever that may lead, and whatever that may be.

    Any takers?

    • Drew says:

      Phil provides the link above to what he would consider good evidence, and books do not qualify. If you think that’s too high a standard, remember that the more extraordinary a claim is, the more extraordinary the evidence to prove it need be. Alien visitation would, as Phil says in the linked article, “revolutionize all of human existence.” As such, a piece of physical verifiable evidence would be required, or at least some alien information that could not reasonably be known by humans and could be verified.

  8. stargazer9915 says:

    What an asshole and an ‘invisible man in the sky’ fearing kook.

  9. Michael Horn says:

    I’m afraid that you have a misunderstanding about how “predictive evidence” (Phil’s own words, of course) is usually published and authenticated. Ideally it is presented in written (published) form in a manner whereby it can be indisputably authenticated, or dismissed.

    “Predictive evidence” isn’t usually found in photos, films, videos, sound recordings, metal samples, etc., such as exist in abundance in the Meier case.

    You may want to familiarize yourself with a few things regarding physical evidence, such as in articles titled FINAL PROOF MEIER’S UFO PHOTOS GENUINE!, and TOP SKEPTIC RETRACTS HOAX CLAIMS – HELPS PROVE MEIER CASE REAL!

    You may also want to consider David Froning’s remarks at Scientific Experts’ Comments on Meier’s Evidence and these from the Academy Award-winning special effects experts at Uncharted Territory:

    “But, to reflect on the statement that’s in the film, I also remember seeing a shot on the Super8 reel that showed a UFO circling around a fairly tall tree. According to that shot, we said that we can’t conclusively say whether it’s real or not, but it seemed impossible to stage that kind of a shot with a miniature (it would have to be hanging on a very tall crane, with wires – but even then the movements would be hard to achieve.) So, yes, in regards to that shot, we mentioned that we could definitely do it today with CG, but at the time these were supposedly shot – it would have been very hard, probably even impossible, to fake this kind of shot.”

    While I can appreciate what this or that person considers good evidence, let’s not make the rather obvious mistake of equating an abundance of varied, stunning evidence with no evidence at all. And of course I’m sure that we are all aware of the simple logic that tells us that Pluto (or any other planet, etc.) existed…even before “official discovery”.

    Likewise, if one was not themselves present at the examination/analysis, or in the possession, of evidence that others were, it doesn’t disqualify the qualifications of those who were, nor of the validity and/or authenticity of that evidence and/or the results of such examination/analysis…otherwise about 90-something plus percent of everything we think we know historically, and possibly scientifically, wouldn’t be “provable” to the majority of humankind and hence, according to the line of reasoning you’re proceeding along, couldn’t be known at all by them, only believed.

    Please also note that copyrighted, dated, published information, books, etc. do constitute a legitimate form of proof, sufficient to have determined different kinds of cases, etc. And, since the information referred to by me turns out to be both specific and accurate, wisdom (not to be confused with so-called intelligence) dictates a deeper examination and understanding of what the evidence is, in an objective scientific manner, as opposed to a narrow, defensive one usually more characteristic of those who call themselves skeptics, rather than simply scientists.

    BTW, I am enjoying an ongoing exchange with Michael Shermer, who I certainly respect, about this information and evidence. At this point it’s quite fair to say that he is…stumped.

    Noting also the lack of reference to the specifics of the information, may I suggest that we don’t get too pretentious, nor risk being mistaken for a modern day Church that, once again, refuses to look through the telescope?

    All the best,


    • c.a.v. says:

      sorry, but why does “copyrighted, dated, published information, books, etc. constitute a legitimate form of proof”? Any nutter can achieve this, and plenty have.

    • Max says:

      “You may also want to consider David Froning’s remarks at Scientific Experts’ Comments on Meier’s Evidence and these from the Academy Award-winning special effects experts at Uncharted Territory”

      And you may want to consider Meier’s ex-wife’s remarks that the “wedding cake” UFO was made from a garbage can lid.

  10. Michael Horn says:

    Uh-huh, I see.

    I’m terribly sorry to have intruded on whatever it is that you actually do here. I was looking for a discussion based on recognized standards of evidence, etc., which is apparently unknown here, not altogether surprisingly since it appears to be mainly a skeptic’s site, rather than a scientific one.

    Of course since the comments that preceded mine reveal woeful ignorance of little details such as Meier’s ex-wife passing a lie detector test in support of his authenticity, and the videotape of her giving a rather detailed report of her own sightings…

    But do carry on without me and have a nice day.

  11. (Spell my name backwards for the name I usually use on other skeptic blogs… here trying to use that name gets my post flagged as spam for some reason. Anyway…)

    For anyone unfamiliar with who Michael Horn is, the Independent Investigation Group’s site has a page about their investigation of his claims here. Suffice to say that his statement that he “demolished the skeptics at IIG” is, to put it very charitably, a matter of opinion.

    • Drew says:


      “2120 Days

      That’s how long it’s been since we formally challenged Michael Horn to produce testable physical evidence to prove the extraterrestrial contact claims of Billy Meier.

      On March 15, 2004, the IIG, CFI-West, and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) challenged Michael Horn to produce some alleged extraterrestrial metal for scientific analysis. If it’s found to be otherworldly, Billy Meier could be eligible to meet the IIG and JREF Paranormal Challenges — with a combined prize total of over One Million Dollars! But, we still haven’t seen the metal…”

  12. Courtney Franklin says:

    I feel really bad for you, for this post has nothing to do with atheism at all.

  13. Michael Horn says:

    Top Skeptic RETRACTS Hoax Claims – Helps Prove Meier Case Real!

    Skeptics at IIG Caught Falsifying Evidence!

    All at they fly.

  14. Michael Horn says:

    “I will also agree with Horn that the photograph section of the short version of my lecture was the weakest part of my presentation.”

    Derek Bartholomaus, lead investigator CFI-West/IIG

    There was no strong part.

    Now, anyone want to review the Red Meteor/Apophis documentation?

  15. Michael Horn says:

    In order to immediately establish the fact that Meier published his warnings about the Red Meteor (known to us now as Apophis) long before “official discovery”, I direct readers to the easily established fact that this warning appears on pages 316 and 317 of Guido Moosbrugger’s book, And yet…they fly! – first published in English in September, 2001…three years before Apophis was discovered by terrestrial scientists.

    That is known as…legal proof. Anyone familiar with that concept?

    • Courtney Franklin says:

      Your a great Troll Mate, and I like how you pimp your website ‘and yet they are models’ too. Keep the trolling up son it’s good for the lulz.

  16. Michael Horn says:

    Try to be responsive to the facts, difficult as that may be. And you may notice that Phil hasn’t even attempted to debunk the info, arguing with Library of Congress copyrights being a tad difficult to do.

    • Courtney Franklin says:

      Maybe because there’s no facts in your story?

      Apophis has a one in 450,000 chance to hit in 2029

      Apophis has a four in 1,000,000 chance to hit in 2036

      Apophis is 900 feet the red meteor as told by the aliens is 350 feet long

      Nit picking aside but Apophis is an asteroid not a meteor big difference

      • wrong says:

        they never said a matter of fact they never use standard measures, its all metric 350 meters is what was said as now nasa conferms. so next time do the home work before you open mouth and insert foot.

  17. Michael Horn says:

    All of our information is in copyrighted, published books…years before “official” discovery. The factual accuracy of Meier’s information is unparalleled. You might wish to educate yourself before being too glib.

    I’ll trust my sources with a 59-year track record of proven accuracy over the figures you quote.

    Please read more…carefully: 350 METERS…effectively the same size. Could it be because they were talking about…the same object?

    I do suggest nit picking aside…do you really care what you call an object that will devastate our world? It only shows the prejudice with which you approach the information.

    Our just released press release (UFO Contactee Warns Apophis Asteroid Could Devastate Europe) is already being carried internationally.

    Try thinking instead of reacting.

  18. Michael Horn says:

    P.S. P.S. At space. com you will find an article titled Makeup of Potentially Threatening Asteroid Determined. Of course I hate to nit pick but…

  19. Michael Horn says:

    Dear Phil,

    All is forgiven, you can come out of hiding now. Really, no one can expect you to know everything, and certainly not how that pesky Billy Meier fellow can publish stuff like that Apophis info before real geniuses like all them other scientists and you do.

    Now you can always leave a secret message at craigslist in the area there where they sell used furniture or something just to let us know you’re okay until you get over the shock about that Meier and his UFO stuff.

    P.S. If you know where Mike Shermer disappeared to please give him the same message. Over and out.

  20. Michael Horn says:


    Yes, I will explain that to you. That conversation was from 2008 and so it was accurate for him to say that they had “detected it for quite some time…” As you can ascertain from the transcript, the first mention of the deadly meteor was in verse form, in 1976.

    Then the 1981 conversation, in Contact 150. In the published version of that contact, in both the German and English language versions, it’s called The Red Meteor. I only have the English language image posted in the article A True Prophet Revealed but of course the copyright is 2001.

    Do note that the German language version was published in 1991, which was at a time when publishing was not quite as computerized and fast as it is today. Taking into account that Moosbrugger took (at least) a year to write the book, and the publication process around another year or more, we know that Moosbrugger was in possession of Meier’s transcript in the 1980s…I myself first read it in 1986 (in English).

    Then the question was raised, in 2002, on the FIGU forum about the Red Meteor and, as you can see, the answer was, “It is still on its way. It has not yet been discovered.” One and one-half years later it was discovered.

    Fast forward to 2008 and you have the sentence about which you enquired. I hope that helps.

    Since you’re looking for things that are (more) impressive than the fact that a so-called “simple Swiss farmer” published that information when none of us certainly had a clue about this asteroid, perhaps you should read the other documentation in the True Prophet article pertaining to Venus, Mars, two planets beyond Pluto, Toutatis…and the 5,100 year-old iceman thrown in for good measure.

    As far as UFO evidence goes, my article titled FINAL PROOF MEIER’S UFO PHOTOS GENUINE! completely destroys the theory that Meier used model UFOs and model trees. As for the WCUFO, be patient there is more drama coming…and some nice, firm photographic proof for you.

    And you might also contemplate the two photos at my site that Meier took…from inside a UFO.

    I also suggest that you research this matter with some objectivity, without suspending your critical thinking abilities, of course. People who simply push their skepticism to the front make it difficult for themselves to learn anything because of their obvious prejudices, not exactly a scientific way to go about it. You could in fact learn a little bit from David Froning, who was courageous enough to state his pro Meier case position at one of my presentations. So I suggest not worrying about losing or saving face, which seems to be lurking behind your comments.

    If the Meier case is indeed authentic, then we should get on with utilizing any verifiable information for its intended purpose. And certainly dropping defensiveness, realizing the implications of Apophis hitting our planet and trying to further international efforts to prevent such a disaster should take precedence over any egocentric considerations. I would hope that you’d agree.

    • Max says:

      As far as objectivity, I just told you the kind of information that I’d find impressive. When I first saw the years 2029 and 2036 mentioned in your transcript, I figured that it had to be dated after 2004, and wouldn’t you know it, I was right. Had you told me that it was dated before 2004, I would’ve been impressed.

      Why don’t the older transcripts mention 2029 and 2036? Why do they say the red meteor is “enormous size” instead of 350m? Obviously, an asteroid that threatens the planet must be of enormous size, so that’s redundant. Saying it’s 350m would’ve been impressive.

  21. Michael Horn says:

    You’re succeeding in establishing a record of your undeserved self-importance. This may come as a shock to you but it isn’t all about…you.

    I referred to David Froning’s well considered, weighty comments, I doubt that yours would impress him.

    You were pointed to the plain evidence that Meier didn’t use any models, to the photos taken from inside the UFO, etc. If you are unable to understand what you are looking at, the specific, dated, copyrighted, published astronomical information at, if you lack the scientific curiosity (and the intellectual honesty) to acknowledge voluminous, specific evidence – from such a seemingly highly improbable source – then perhaps science isn’t the field for you.

    The fact that people are so transparently ego driven, clubby and comfortable in the face of disquieting, credible evidence far outside of their paradigm is disquieting; ubiquitous mental mediocrity is now the order of the day.

    It’s obvious that Phil stuck his proverbial foot in his mouth when he asked for “predictive evidence”. And his uncharacteristic lack of a lightening fast attempt to dismiss it is enormously telling, especially when, instead, it appears that “a boy tried to do a man’s work”.

  22. Michael Horn says:

    David Froning: At the time, Dr. Froning had already spent 25 years as an
    astronautical engineer at McDonnell Douglas in highly classified military defense
    and, in 1979, became interested in Meier’s accounts of Plejaren starship travel, which
    mentioned tachyon propulsion. Dr. Froning found Meier’s account of tachyon propulsion
    (which was only beginning to be discussed by a very small and select group of
    theoretical physicists), and his calculations for above light speed travel to be amazing. In
    1983, he was pursuing his Quantum Interstellar Ramjet idea (JBIS vol. 33, no. 7, July
    1980; AIAA 81-1533, July1981; IAF-85-492, October, 1985) and plugged in his Quantum
    Ramjet performance equations, assuming: a given starship density, vacuum energy
    conversion efficiency (in transforming positrons and electrons within the quantum
    vacuum into photons), and vacuum energy conversion scales of distance of the order of
    the Compton wavelength. The resulting vehicle acceleration enabled achievement of
    almost light speed in about 4.3 hours and deceleration from light speed in about 4.3
    hours. Meier said that the elapsed time during the “hyperspace jump” took only several
    seconds. Thus, trip time between the Pleiades star cluster and Earth with Froning’s
    slower-than-light Quantum Ramjet Drive plus a hypothetical tachyon drive would be 8.6
    hours, which was within 20% of the Plejaren trip time reported by Meier. But, while
    Froning’s calculations were based on many arbitrary assumptions, and in no way proved
    the truthfulness of Meier’s account (since it was a theoretical system he was working on,
    only time will tell as to which are correct) Froning was somewhat startled that his
    arbitrary flight time computations were within 20% of the flight time mentioned by Meier.
    Regarding the Meier material, Dr. Froning also publicly stated that, “My colleagues and I
    may have made breakthroughs in our understanding of possibilities and ways for
    traveling faster than light from Billy Meier’s accounts of his encounters with the
    Plejarens.” He also said, “If what this Meier is saying is just a hoax, he’s being cued by
    some very knowledgeable scientists. I’ve only discussed this Meier case with scientists
    who are fairly open-minded about interstellar flight, but I’ll tell you, the majority of them
    think it’s credible and agree at least part, or sometimes all, of the things talked about by
    the Pleiadians.”

  23. Michael Horn says:

    So the frequently heard question is, “If this is really true, why haven’t I heard about it before?”

    The simple answer is that those whose duty it is to research, investigate and report the truth abdicated their responsibility to do so. And those whose egos felt threatened because their knowledge and importance was revealed to be infinitesimally small in comparison tried to ridicule – or avoid – the matter entirely.

  24. Michael Horn says:

    Well, we’re going on two weeks since I submitted what Phil requested. Do you think a search party may be necessary to find out where he has concealed himself?

  25. Michael Horn says:

    Okay, for all you scientists out there. Just why would the Plejaren refer to Apophis as the Red Meteor?

    After all, if Meier published information not only about the discovery of Toutatis but what it would be NAMED – in 1978 – doncha think those goofy extratorrentials could have just told us what this one would be named?

    …or were they trying to see if our scientists could take a hint…from the Torino scale?

    Just a thought, I’m sure somebody here has the answer.

  26. Michael Horn says:

    Oh, did I mention that the Torino scale was created AFTER Meier’s verifiable, copyrighted information was published?

  27. Michael Horn says:

    P.S. Yes we know that OUR scientists downgraded the threat…

    Need I say more?

  28. Michael Horn says:

    My goodness. Two weeks have gone by and poor Phil – who after all WANTED to see “predictive evidence” – is apparently allergic to actually doing so. Do keep in mind though that Apophis hasn’t disappeared just because Phil has.

    No matter, when usually glib, self-confident (and self-styled) “experts” suddenly speak loudly in their silence, it should at the very least send a message to their followers: Learning to say, “I don’t know” carries no shame…and is a nice place from which to begin to learn.

    Fortunately there’s free home study course, for all levels at and the sites linked from it.

  29. k.m-roud says:

    what a quandery! u.a.p good term, however by the nature of human need and the obvious propensity to twist terms and statements -after all politicians have done this for generations, the use of it is already redundant.
    shall i say ; observe , study, analyse and confirm; be true and honest.i personally believe there’s a history of “odd things in the skies”, i dont think for a moment that the ancient civilisations were remotely dim in any way; ergo there is a case to answer about u.a.p’s.
    lets just be objective and honest.surely that’s a good foundation for any study.

  30. Trang Bree says:

    Well…this place never fails in surprising me man.. LOL.. Wishing you are all doing well today. Enjoy the day, and always keep smiling. Then stab someone in the chest as you continue to smile. LOL.

  31. Phil P. says:

    Everything Michael Horn says is true.

  32. Ted N. says:

    Regarding comment 34, reading “Everything Michael Horn says is true”, sadly enough:

    “Sheila says:
    August 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm
    Hi Zach, yes that’s true but you’ll also notice those deep shadows show up inside the gulley, not outside it like many of these pictures from Mars. See nasaphotojournal for further review. Check out those perfectly circular “craters” (NASA’s words) and think about when a meteorite lands on earth, how it never makes a completely circular pattern, always breaks up before hitting. Billy has also said that most of the old rivers on Mars have been covered up by soil and volcanic ash.
    Oddly when I went to the skeptics blog and signed up as Phil P. and commented “Everything Michael Horn says is true” they didn’t post that either. Go figure.”

    A bad day for truth, ethics, honesty…

  33. Ted N. says:

    Comment 34, reading:
    “Phil P. says “Everything Michael Horn says is true”” is not from Phil Plait.


    “Sheila says:
    August 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm
    Hi Zach, yes that’s true but you’ll also notice those deep shadows show up inside the gulley, not outside it like many of these pictures from Mars. See nasaphotojournal for further review. Check out those perfectly circular “craters” (NASA’s words) and think about when a meteorite lands on earth, how it never makes a completely circular pattern, always breaks up before hitting. Billy has also said that most of the old rivers on Mars have been covered up by soil and volcanic ash.
    Oddly when I went to the skeptics blog and signed up as Phil P. and commented “Everything Michael Horn says is true” they didn’t post that either. Go figure.”

  34. Ted N. says:

    There we go again:

    Son of Billy Meier speaks out: “Dear Father, I’ve had enough!”

    Methusalem Meier (38), the second-oldest son of the controversial Swiss “UFO prophet” Billy Meier (74), has finally had enough: In an open letter, twelve pages long, he casts a very harsh judgement on his father, but also on himself – and equally on the members of Billy’s controversial UFO sect, FIGU, and its alien fairytales.
    The accusations are substantial: Methusalem accuses his father of being physically violent both to his mother, Kalliope, and himself over the course of many years.

    Why has he done so publicly?
    “Because I want to distance myself once and for all from the nasty games and machinations of my father – in order finally to start a new life.”
    The entire german letter from Methusalem Meier can be downloaded as a PDF file (see the link below).
    In contrast to Billy, Methusalem Meier is willing at all times to answer questions: “I have nothing to hide. It’s high time that the world discovers the sad truth about my father.”
    Whoever wants to contact Methusalem Meier personally can do so at his direct e-mail address:

    What a sordid tragedy!

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