Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
Some UFOs are best Explained as Being Extraterrestrial Life or
Non-human Aliens from other Planets Occupying Physical Spacecraft Visiting Earth

Extraterrestrial Hypothesis
Some UFOs are best Explained as Being Extraterrestrial Life or Non-human Aliens from other Planets Occupying Physical Spacecraft Visiting Earth

COMETA was a high-level French UFO study organisation from the late 1990s, composed of high-ranking officers and officials, some having held command posts in the armed forces and aerospace industry. The name "COMETA" in English stands for "Committee for in-depth studies." The study was carried out over several years by an independent group of mostly former "auditors" at the Institute of Advanced Studies for National Defence, or IHEDN, a high-level French military think-tank, and by various other experts.

The group was responsible for the 'COMETA Report' (1999) on UFOs and their possible implications for defence in France. The report concluded that about 5% of the UFO cases they studied were utterly inexplicable and the best hypothesis to explain them was the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH). The authors also accused the United States government of engaging in a massive cover-up of the evidence.

The 'COMETA Report' was not solicited by the French government, although before its public release, it was first sent to French President Jacques Chirac and to Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Immediately afterward, a French weekly news and leisure magazine called VSD referred to it as an "official report", though technically this wasn't the case since COMETA was the work of a private, non-profit, ufological study group.

Skeptic Claude Maugé wrote about this: "By letter dated 23 February General Bastien, of the Special Staff of the President of the Republic, wrote: 'To answer your question, this report compiled by members of an association organised under the law of 1901 (ruling most non-commercial private associations in France) did not respond to any official request and does not have any special status'."

The report drew largely on the research of GEPAN / SEPRA, a section of the French space agency CNES, unique in being the only official French government-sponsored organisation to investigate UFOs. The birth of GEPAN / SEPRA in the mid-1970s was in large part due to the intense wave of high strangeness UFO sightings in France in 1954.

The extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH) is the hypothesis that some unidentified flying objects (UFOs) are best explained as being extraterrestrial life or non-human aliens from other planets occupying physical spacecraft visiting Earth.

This hypothesis is considered spurious by most scientists due to both negative evidence and lack of concrete positive evidence.

It is also generally rejected by religionists for its disruption of the faith system. It is often a target for intentional hoaxes.

Origins of the term extraterrestrial hypothesis are unknown. It was used in a publication by French engineer Aimé Michel in 1967 and again by James Harder, while testifying before the Congressional Committee on Science and Astronautics, in July 1968.

In 1969 physicist Edward Condon defined ETH as the "idea that some UFOs may be spacecraft sent to Earth from another civilization or space other than earth, or on a planet associated with a more distant star," while presenting the findings of the much debated Condon Report.

Although ETH, as a unified and named hypothesis, is a comparatively new concept - one which owes a lot to the saucer sightings of the 1940s–1960s.

Martian Canals

For a time in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was erroneously believed that there were canals on Mars.

These were a network of long straight lines that appeared in drawings of the planet Mars in the equatorial regions from 60° N. to 60° S. Lat., first observed by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli during the opposition of 1877, and confirmed by later observers.

Schiaparelli called these canali, which was translated into English as "canals"

ETH can trace its origins back to a number of earlier events such as the now discredited Martian canals promoted by astronomer Percival Lowell, popular culture including the writings of H. G. Wells and fellow science fiction pioneers, and even to the works of figures such as the Swedish philosopher, mystic and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, who promoted a variety of unconventional views that linked other worlds to the afterlife.

An early example of speculation over extraterrestrial visitors can be found in the French newspaper Le Pays, which on June 17th, 1864, published a story about two American geologists who had allegedly discovered an alien-like creature, a mummified three-foot-tall hairless humanoid with a trunk-like appendage on its forehead, inside a hollow egg-shaped structure.

A further report can be found in the Missouri Democrat (St. Louis), which, in October 1865, reported on the story of Rocky Mountain trapper James Lumley, who claimed to have discovered fragments of rock bearing "curious hieroglyphics" which seemed to form a compartmentalized object which he believed was being used to transport "an animate being", after investigating a meteor impact near Great Falls, Montana.

The newspaper goes on to speculate "Possibly, meteors could be used as a means of conveyance by the inhabitants of other planets, in exploring space". H. G. Wells in his 1898 science fiction classic War of the Worlds popularized, perhaps for the first time, the idea of Martian visitation and invasion.

War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds (1898) is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells. It describes the experiences of an unnamed narrator who travels through the suburbs of London as the Earth is invaded by Martians.

It is the earliest story that details a conflict between mankind and an alien race.

However, even before Wells, there was a sudden upsurge in reports in "Mystery airships" in the U.S. UFO historians Jerome Clark and David M. Jacobs note that extraterrestrial visitation, particularly from Mars, was sometimes proposed to explain these mystery airship waves.

For example, the Washington ‘’Times’’ in 1897 speculated that the airships were "a reconnoitering party from Mars" and the Saint Louis ‘’Post-Dispatch’’ wrote, "these may be visitors from Mars, fearful, at the last, of invading the planet they have been seeking."

Later there was a more international airship wave from 1909-1912. An example of an extraterrestrial explanation at the time was a 1909 letter to a New Zealand newspaper suggested "atomic powered spaceships from Mars.”

From the 1920s the idea of alien visitation in space ships was commonplace in popular comic strips and radio and movie serials such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In particular, Flash Gordon serials have Earth being attacked from space by alien meteors, ray beams, and biological weapons.

In 1938 a radio broadcast version of War of the Worlds by Orson Welles, using a contemporary setting for H. G. Wells’ Martian invasion, created some public panic in the U.S. This would later figure into some commentary on what was happening in 1947 when “flying saucers” finally hit the U.S.

War of the Worlds - Radio Broadcast

The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air.

It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30th, 1938 and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network.

Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds. The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated "news bulletins", which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress.

Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a 'sustaining show' (it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the program's quality of realism.

Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated.

In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program's news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode secured Orson Welles' fame.

Regarding modern UFO sightings and their link to the ETH, literature professor and skeptic Terry Matheson wrote, "…sightings of unidentifiable lights the sky had been taking place for centuries, but only after Kenneth Arnold’s flying saucer sighting on June 24th, 1947, near Mount Rainier, Washington, were they explicitly theorized to be extraterrestrial in origin."

The modern ETH - specifically the implicit linking of unidentified aircraft and lights in the sky to alien life - took root during the late 1940s and took its current form during the 1950s.

It drew on pseudoscience as well as popular culture. However, unlike earlier speculation of extraterrestrial life, interest in the ETH was also bolstered by many unexplained sightings investigated by government and private civilian groups, such as NICAP and APRO.

On June 24th, 1947, at about 3.00 p.m. local time, pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine unidentified disk-shaped aircraft flying near Mount Rainier. Arnold said the objects moved as if they were a saucer skipping across water, but also described the shape as thin, flat, and disc-like or saucer-like (also like a "pie-plate," "pie-pan," and "half-moon shaped").

Three days later, the terms "flying disc" and "flying saucer" first appeared in newspapers and became the preferred terms for the phenomenon for a number of years, until largely replaced in the 1950s and 1960s by UFO. Though he was impressed by their high speed and quick movements, Arnold did not initially consider the ETH, stating, "I assumed at the time they were a new formation or a new type of jet, though I was baffled by the fact that they did not have any tails."

Kenneth Arnold Interview

A radio interview with kenneth arnold the first person to report seeing a flying saucer although ufos have been reported for centuries arnold was the first to coin the phrase flying saucers.

"They passed almost directly in front of me, but at a distance of about 23 miles, which is not very great in the air. I judged their wingspan to be at least 100 feet across. Their flying did not particularly disturb me at the time, except that I had never seen planes of that type."

However, when no aircraft emerged that seemed to account for what he had seen, Arnold clearly did consider the possibility of the objects being extraterrestrial.

In the same 1950 interview with journalist Edward R. Murrow Arnold added, "...if it's not made by our science or our Army Air Forces, I am inclined to believe it's of an extraterrestrial origin."

When the flying saucer wave hit the U.S., even if people thought the saucers were real, they were generally unwilling to leap to the conclusion that they were extraterrestrial in origin. Various theories began to quickly proliferate in press articles, such as secret military projects, Russian spy devices, hoaxes, and mass hysteria, but the ETH was not generally among them.

According to Murrow, the ETH as an explanation for "flying saucers" did not earn widespread attention until about 18 months after Arnold's sighting. These attitudes seem to be reflected in the results of the first US poll of public UFO perceptions released by Gallup on August 14th, 1947. The term "flying saucer" was familiar to 90% of the respondents.

It further showed that most people either held no opinion (33%), or believed that there was a mundane explanation for apparent UFOs.

29% thought they were an optical illusion
15% a US secret weapon
10% a hoax
  3% a “weather forecasting device”
  1% of Soviet origin
  9% had “other explanations”, including fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, secret commercial aircraft, or related to atomic testing.  

On July 10th, U.S. Senator Glen Taylor of Idaho commented, “I almost wish the flying saucers would turn out to be space ships from another planet,” because the possibility of hostility “would unify the people of the earth as nothing else could.”

On July 8th, Dewitt Miller was quoted by UP saying that the saucers had been seen since the early nineteenth century. If the present discs weren’t secret Army weapons, he suggested they could be vehicles from Mars or other planets or maybe even “things out of other dimensions of time and space.”

At the same time, several nationally syndicated columns by humorist Hal Boyle spoke of a green man from Mars in his flying saucer. Even Arnold commented along these lines.

In a June 28 article, he described an encounter he had with a near-hysterical woman in Pendleton, Oregon, shrieking, "there's the man who saw the men from Mars." Arnold then added, "This whole thing has gotten out of hand... Half the people I see look at me as a combination Einstein, Flash Gordon and screwball."

On July 9th, Army Air Force Intelligence began a secret study of the best saucer reports, including Arnold's. A follow-up study by the Air Materiel Command intelligence and engineering departments at Wright Field Ohio led to the formation the U.S. Air Force's Project Sign at the end of 1947, the first official U.S. military UFO study.

In the summer of 1948, Project Sign wrote their Estimate of the Situation, which concluded that the remaining unidentified sightings were best explained by the ETH.

However, the report ultimately was rejected by the USAF Chief of Staff, General Hoyt Vandenberg, citing a lack of physical evidence, and its existence was not publicly disclosed until 1956 by later Project Blue Book director Edward J. Ruppelt.


Project Sign

Project Sign was an official U.S. government study of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) undertaken by the United States Air Force in late 1947 and dissolved in late 1948.

Formally, Project Sign came to no conclusion about UFOs with their final report stating that the existence of "flying saucers" could neither be confirmed or denied.

However, prior to this, Sign officially argued that UFOs were likely of extraterrestrial origin, and most of the project's personnel came to favor the extraterrestrial hypothesis before this opinion was rejected and Sign was dissolved.

Ruppelt also indicated that Vandenberg dismantled Project Sign after they wrote their ETH conclusion. With this official policy in place, all subsequent public Air Force reports concluded that there was either insufficient evidence to link UFOs and ETH, or that UFOs did not warrant investigation.

Immediately following the great UFO wave of 1952 and military debunkery of the radar and visual sightings plus jet interceptions over Washington, D.C. in August, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Investigation took particularly interest in UFOs. Though the ETH was mentioned, it was generally given little credence.

However, others within the CIA, such as the Psychological Strategy Board, were more concerned about how an unfriendly power such as the Soviet Union might use UFOs for psychological warfare purposes, exploit the gullibility of the public for the sensational, and clog intelligence channels.

Under a directive from the National Security Council to review the problem, in January 1953, the CIA organized the Robertson Panel, a group of scientists who quickly reviewed the Blue Book’s best evidence, including motion pictures and an engineering report that concluded that the performance characteristics were beyond that of earthly craft.

After only two days' review, all cases were claimed to have conventional explanations. An official policy of public debunkery was recommended using the mass media and authority figures in order to influence public opinion and reduce the number of UFO reports.

The early 1950s also saw a number of movies depicting flying saucers and aliens, including:
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • The War of the Worlds, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
  • Forbidden Planet (1956)
Despite this, public belief in ETH seems to have remained low during the early 1950s, even among those reporting UFOs.

A poll published in Popular Mechanics magazine, in August 1951, showed that 52% of UFO witnesses questioned believed that they had seen a man-made aircraft, while only 4% believed that they had seen an alien craft.

However, within a few years, belief in ETH had increased due to the activities of people such as retired U.S. Marine Corp officer Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, who campaigned to raise public awareness of the UFO phenomena.

By 1957, 25% of Americans responded that they either believed, or were willing to believe, in ETH, while 53% responded that they weren't (though a majority of these respondents indicated they thought UFOs to be real but of earthly origin). 22% said that they were uncertain.

During this time, the ETH also fragmented into distinct camps, each believing slightly different variations of the hypothesis. The "contactees" of the early 1950s said that the "space brothers" they met were peaceful and benevolent, but by the mid-1960s, a number of alleged Alien abductions; including that of Betty and Barney Hill, and of the apparent mutilation of cattle cast the ETH in more sinister terms.

Allen Hynek Admits Astronomers do see UFOs

Dr. Josef Allen Hynek ( May 1, 1910 - April 27, 1986 ) was a United States astronomer, professor, and ufologist.

He is perhaps best remembered for his UFO research.

Hynek acted as scientific adviser to UFO studies undertaken by the U.S. Air Force under three consecutive names:
  • Project Sign (1947-1949)
  • Project Grudge (1949-1952)
  • Project Blue Book (1952 to 1969)
For decades afterwards, he conducted his own independent UFO research, and is widely considered the father of the concept of scientific analysis of both reports and, especially, trace evidence purportedly left by UFOs.

Opinion polls indicate that public belief in the ETH has continued to rise since then.

For example, a 1997 Gallup poll of the U.S. public indicated that 87% knew about UFOs, 48% believed them to be real (vs. 33% who thought them to be imaginary), and 45% believed they had visited Earth.

Similarly a Roper poll from 2002 found 56% thought UFOs to be real and 48% thought they had visited Earth.

Polls also indicate that the public believes even more strongly that the government is suppressing evidence about UFOs. For example, in both the cited Gallup and Roper polls, the figure was about 70%.

Scientists often attack ETH for its lack of provable evidence and contention with the fundamental laws of physics.

The two most common arguments are:

  • If aliens had visited the planet then we would have some solid proof of it.
  • any possible alien life out there would so far away from Earth that it would take millions of years for them to travel here.

Both of these are good arguments but have two major flaws.

  • Scientists, especially Quantum Theorists and Cosmologists, often use principles such as Dark Matter, String Theory and Quantum Superposition and present them as fact when they are only, really, our best attempt at explaining certain observations using current technology and theory. There exists no solid evidence for them.
  • As scientists often point out, we don't know everything, yet. There are still many mysteries out there in the universe that we don't know about. Dark matter is a concept that was hypothesised to explain the apparent lack of matter in the universe due to discrepancies in measurements. One of the discrepancies comes from the general relativistic measurements calculated, a theory that has formed much of the cornerstone of advanced physics for the past hundred years, yet even that has recently been questioned in a paper by Rachel Bean; not whether it's right, but whether it needs expanding.

The latter invites the question "Could an advanced alien species, with a better understanding of the universe, develop methods of travel that are, as yet, unknown to us?".

To date, there has been no scientific calculation published taking into account the most recent science on the observable universe, as to whether it is possible that ETs are visiting Earth in advanced spacecraft. Considering the vastness and age of the universe, as revealed through the work of the Hubble Telescope and subsequent astronomical surveys utilizing space-based observations, this is certainly a calculable possibility.

Imagine space-faring civilizations that were a million years old or more. What would they be capable of? The Drake Equation has attempted this calculation, but only for our own galaxy, and does not include any reference to the 80 billion other galaxies that make up the observable universe.

Drake Equation

The Drake equation (sometimes called the Green Bank equation or the Green Bank Formula) is an equation used to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.

It is used in the fields of exobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The equation was devised by Frank Drake, Emeritus Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 1960, Frank Drake conducted the first search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. Soon thereafter, the National Academy of Sciences asked Drake to convene a meeting on detecting extraterrestrial intelligence. The meeting was held at the Green Bank facility in 1961.

The equation that bears Drake's name arose out of his preparations for the meeting:

As I planned the meeting, I realized a few days ahead of time we needed an agenda. And so I wrote down all the things you needed to know to predict how hard it's going to be to detect extraterrestrial life. And looking at them it became pretty evident that if you multiplied all these together, you got a number, N, which is the number of detectable civilizations in our galaxy. This, of course, was aimed at the radio search, and not to search for primordial or primitive life forms.   – Frank Drake

Because the Drake Equation is also based on known laws of physics, it assumes the transportation barrier of light speed cannot be exceeded or circumvented.

Both of these parameters in the equation drastically limit the calculation when compared with the scale of the observable universe.

It is also wise to acknowledge the ongoing nature of science - all previous scientific theories have had to give way when a better one contradicts or modifies its relevance as an explanation of available data. 

To begin with, the Drake Equation should be modified to include some kind of reference to the number of galaxies in the observable universe, and the probability that our current laws of physics will be superseded (as they inevitably will according to the principle of falsifiability).

To be truly neutral, to not prematurely cast a vote for the finality of the laws of physics as we currently know them, we have to recognise the probability that these laws are only an early stage on the pathway of a scientific civilisation capable of interstellar space flight, and whose age is measured in thousands or millions of years.

The Fermi Paradox would turn out not be a paradox at all. But this would take convincing evidence. One possibility would be to give proper recognition to the available evidence surrounding the 5% of anomalous aerial phenomena that elude all logical explanations.

Political scientists Dr Alexander Wendt and Dr Raymond Duvall have published a paper that seeks to explain the reasons why little serious consideration has been given to these sightings by scientists and governments around the world, despite their ubiquity and good corroborating evidence.

Entitled "Sovereignty and the UFO", their paper proposes that the reason why the phenomenon has not been accorded any proper attention is that it fundamentally threatens all notions of human sovereignty.

Fermi Paradox

The Fermi paradox is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the
probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

The age of the universe and its vast number of stars suggest that if the Earth is typical, extraterrestrial life should be common. In an informal discussion in 1950, the physicist Enrico Fermi questioned why, if a multitude of advanced extraterrestrial civilizations exist in the Milky Way galaxy, evidence such as spacecraft or probes is not seen.

A more detailed examination of the implications of the topic began with a paper by Michael H. Hart in 1975, and it is sometimes referred to as the Fermi-Hart paradox. Other common names for the same phenomenon are Fermi's question ("Where are they?"), the Fermi Problem, the Great Silence, and silentium universi (Latin for "the silence of the universe"; the misspelling silencium universi is also common).

There have been attempts to resolve the Fermi paradox by locating evidence of extraterrestrial civilizations, along with proposals that such life could exist without human knowledge. Counterarguments suggest that intelligent extraterrestrial life does not exist or occurs so rarely or briefly that humans will never make contact with it.

Starting with Hart, a great deal of effort has gone into developing scientific theories about, and possible models of, extraterrestrial life, and the Fermi paradox has become a theoretical reference point in much of this work. The problem has spawned numerous scholarly works addressing it directly, while questions that relate to it have been addressed in fields as diverse as astronomy, biology, ecology, and philosophy.

The emerging field of astrobiology has brought an interdisciplinary approach to the Fermi paradox and the question of extraterrestrial life.

Journalist Leslie Kean has attempted to draw attention to this growing body of evidence and witness testimony in UFOs: Generals, Pilots And Officials Go On The Record, which details the available evidence of the most elusive UFO sightings ever seen, which includes correlated visual observations, ground and air-based radar readings and recordings, and in some cases electro-magnetic effects on electronic equipment.

Many of these cases are fully documented in recently-released government records from a growing list of countries. An international agency could be established to study this phenomenon, in conjunction with small national agencies responsible for rapid response to all major sightings and collection of all available information.

A frequent concept in ufology and popular culture is that the true extent of information about UFOs is being suppressed by some form of conspiracy of silence, or by an official cover up that is acting to conceal information.

In 1968, American engineer James A. Harder argued that significant evidence existed to prove UFOs "beyond reasonable doubt," but that the evidence had been suppressed and largely neglected by scientists and the general public, thus preventing sound conclusions from being reached on the ETH.

"Over the past 20 years a vast amount of evidence has been accumulating that bears on the existence of UFO's. Most of this is little known to the general public or to most scientists. But on the basis of the data and ordinary rules of evidence, as would be applied in civil or criminal courts, the physical reality of UFO's has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt" - J A Harder

A survey carried out by Industrial Research magazine in 1971 showed that more Americans believed the government was concealing information about UFOs (76 percent) than believed in the existence of UFOs (54 percent), or in ETH itself (32 percent).