Old and busted - Bird watching. New hotness - UFO spotting

Don’t tell that guy who ran into the Central Park Karen, but birdwatching is taking a back seat to a different sort of hobby these days, at least according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. People are still scanning the skies and looking for things that are flying around, but they don’t have feathers. There’s been a huge surge in UFO sightings around the country and more people are actively out there looking for Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon than in the past.

The other factor involved in this trend is that when people do manage to see something inexplicable in the skies, they’re not keeping it to themselves. They’re reporting the sightings more frequently, sometimes to local law enforcement authorities, but increasingly to the major UFO reporting networks in the United States and Canada. (Yes, there are such things and they’ve been around for a long time.) Reports of such sightings have surged more than 50% over the same period last year and the numbers are continuing to increase. (Subscription required)

In the wake of the coronavirus, sports stadiums have fallen silent, shopping malls have been turned into ghost towns, and bars have emptied. But the skies—depending who you ask—have gotten a lot busier.

Hannah Levine was outside with her dog around midnight in April when she saw a curious yellow light glide across the sky and vanish, one that didn’t resemble a plane. Puzzled, she pulled up a night sky app on her phone to check whether it might be a satellite or the International Space Station, but nothing came up.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I saw a UFO,’ ” says Ms. Levine, 26, a nanny in the Detroit area. “I mean, it was definitely unidentified.”

With more people at home, this is shaping up to be a banner year for extraterrestrial encounters, according to data from the nonprofit National UFO Reporting Center, which reports sightings this year are up 51% so far over the same period in 2019. Among 5,000 incidents recorded this year, 20% occurred in April as much of the nation remained in lockdown.

Speaking as someone who has been doing this for many years (without success, I might add), I’ll just say that I’m not surprised. There are a number of factors that are probably contributing to all of the UFO reports that are coming in, but they are all keeping the folks at the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) busy. If you happen to be in Canada, their government accepts, tracks and logs sightings. The Canadians have similarly reported an increase in sightings of more than 50%.

So are there really more UFOs in our skies now than in the past? Well… maybe. But probably not. A more likely cause is the fact that so many more people are out of work due to the pandemic with more time on their hands than usual. Many are taking walks just to get out of the house, leading to more occasions for them to be looking up at the sky. This is in keeping with an old survey done by MUFON some years ago that showed two of the demographic groups most likely to spot a UFO were people who own dogs and cigarette smokes. That may sound odd, but people with dogs tend to take them out walking on a daily basis when the weather allows. And with smoking being banned in so many buildings, smokers tend to congregate outside to get their fix, also giving them plenty of time to gaze upwards. (Editor’s note: We are not endorsing the idea of taking up smoking just to improve your chances of seeing aliens. Smoking is still bad for you.)

We should also keep in mind that more than 90% of reported UFO sightings wind up being explainable by conventional phenomena. NUFORC has reported a huge spike in sightings of strange lights traveling in a straight line across the nighttime skies like a caravan over the past year. Virtually all of them turn out to be cases of people seeing Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite clusters making their rounds. It’s a very cool sight, but I’m sorry to report that it’s not ET getting ready to phone home.

So what is it you should be looking for if you want to get into this hobby? The most common sightings by far are simply points of light in the sky either where they shouldn’t be or doing unexpected things. Stationary lights can almost always be explained by stars or planets. Points of light that move in a straight line at a constant velocity are generally satellites, the ISS or other man-made craft. But if you see one or more that are “dancing” in any fashion, doing loops and changing direction, then you’re either seeing a plane that’s extremely high up, a drone, or you’ve got yourself a UFO. Try to get some video and call NUFORC immediately.

But what about the more exotic sightings of actual craft? Those are far rarer, but most of them fall into four general categories. There are the old-fashioned, traditional “flying saucers” that were popular in old movies, but you hardly ever hear about them anymore. Then there are the infamous Black Triangles. The most common are probably orbs… glowing spheres of light capable of non-ballistic motion and incredible speed. And finally, of course, the Tic Tacs. They just look like huge versions of that type of candy. If you see any of these things and manage to get a picture, again… report it. And be sure to send a copy to me. I’ve been looking for years and I’ve yet to see a darned thing.