There was an interesting announcement this weekend (October 30, 2015) about a new project called UFO Detection and TrAcking, aka UFODATA. The project’s team says it wants to make the study of UFO phenomena “a systematic, rigorous science” and to design, build and deploy a global network of automated surveillance stations that will monitor the skies for UFOs full-time.
Although it’s organized as a separate, all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, UFODATA appears to be an offshoot of the Center for UFO Studies. That center was founded in the 1970s by J. Allen Hynek, the professional astronomer who coined the phrase close encounters. Hynek had earlier been drafted to serve as a consultant to a U.S. Air Force study, begun in 1952, to investigate unidentified flying objects. This was the famous Project Blue Book. Hynek’s bio at the Center for UFO studies says he was at first skeptical about the UFO phenomenon, but later, it seems, he became profoundly curious. When he established the Center for UFO Studies in 1973, Hynek wanted to bring together scientists and other highly-trained technical experts, who would work to solve what he saw as the UFO enigma.
Now, 42 years later, UFODATA wants to do exactly the same thing, with the help of a big new idea.
Mark Rodeghier, UFODATA board member and scientific director and president of the Center for UFO Studies, a position he’s held since Hynek’s death in 1986, said in an October 30 statement:
It has become clear that any breakthrough in our understanding of the UFO phenomenon will require a break from the past. Witness testimony, photos and videos, and government documents have taken us only so far; instead, we need to record and study UFOs directly, as other sciences do with their own specific objects.
Of course, this is a daunting task, but it is made conceivable by advances in technology, software, communication capabilities, and power sources.
Rodeghier conceived of the UFODATA project with Alexander Wendt, a political scientist at Ohio State University and another UFODATA board member. Click here to see project scientists from the United States, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Chile.
Another prominent board member is Leslie Kean, an investigative journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record. In October, Leslie Kean made a couple of pre-announcements in print leading up to this weekend’s official announcement from the UFODATA project itself. One – published October 14, 2015 – was huffingtonpost.com on what she called the launch of a new UFO science. Also in October, 2015, Kean wrote at pyschologytomorrowmagazine.com on the UFO taboo, saying:
The subject of UFOs is not a simple issue to address. It is one of the most misunderstood scientific problems we face today – so much so, that many scientists do not even consider it to be in the category of a problem worth studying. There is a great deal of misinformation and prejudice against it, confusion about what a UFO actually is (and isn’t), and attitudes of ridicule have permeated the culture for decades.
In fact, taking UFOs seriously has become taboo.
I felt that taboo, too, before deciding to write this post.
The statement from UFODATA goes on to say:
The great majority of UFO reports can be easily identified as misperceived stars and planets, balloons, other atmospheric phenomena, or birds or insects in cell phone photos, among many terrestrial sources. The UFODATA project instead is interested in the small, but potentially significant, remainder of reports that cannot be so easily explained.
Importantly, the project does not assume that these unexplained reports are caused by extraterrestrial intelligence; the project has the goal of simply learning more about the characteristics of truly puzzling sightings and following the science, wherever it leads.
Here’s the big new idea. UFODATA wants to deploy a crowd-funded global network of automated surveillance stations that would monitor the skies continuously for UFOs. They would place them in known UFO hotspots such as those in the western United States and in Hessdalen, Norway. As unidentified objects are spotted, the team then will collect as much physical data about them as possible. They want to know, for example, the type and intensity of radiation being emitted by the UFO and its surroundings, and how that light might change over the time it’s being observed. They speak of the simultaneous use of:
… photometric, spectroscopic, magnetometric and radio-spectrometric (VLF-ELF and UHF) instrumentation.
An interesting aspect of this project is the scale. The UFODATA team is talking about:
… taking advantage of the internet and new surveillance technologies to build an entire network of stations that can take multiple sophisticated measurements simultaneously.
On its website, UFODATA says the cost of developing a prototype station, including not just the equipment, camera, and sensors, but also software, construction and testing, will be “several tens of thousands of dollars.” Subsequent stations will cost less.
The team says its first goal is to raise enough money to design and construct one prototype station, and they hope that prototype phase will last one year. After that, the team wants to deploy the first station and begin construction of as many additional stations as funding permits.
Regrettably, because of the authoritative taboo on taking UFOs seriously, official funding for the systematic study of UAP is essentially non-existent, in both the USA and Europe. This was true in the past and is still true today. So even if the scientific community was open and willing to examine scientific evidence for UFOs – and we know that some scientists are – it takes resources to do the research to provide that evidence.
Crowd-funding has proven to be an invaluable tool to raise money for projects that, for whatever reason, are not deemed worthy of research grants from the authorities. We know millions of people worldwide are very interested in UFOs, and would like to find out what they are, just as we would.
The team says it plans to launch its first crowd-funding campaign in a few months, but in the meantime you can donate.
Bottom line: UFODATA wants to make UFO studies a science. It wants to design, build and deploy a global network of automated surveillance stations to watch for UFOs full-time.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.