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The West is Best – America’s UFO Hotspots Mapped in New Study

University of Utah geographers have identified ‘red zones’ in 22 states.

Credit: Shutterstock/ People Images.

The study plotted 98,000 Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) sightings from 2001-2020. Results prove a correlation between UFO reports and sky view potential, as indicated by light pollution, cloud cover and tree cover. Areas with high military or commercial aircraft presence were also linked to greater numbers of uncanny sightings. 

‘The idea is that if you have a chance to see something, then it’s more likely that you’re going to see unexplained phenomena in the sky,’ lead author Richard Medina explains.  

‘There’s more technology in the sky than ever before so the question is: What are people actually seeing? It’s a tough question to answer, and it is an important one because any uncertainty can be a potential threat to national security.’ 

UFO hotspots were found in the West and very Northeast of the contiguous US. Coldspots, meanwhile, exist mainly in the Central Plains and Southeast. 

The map colour codes the frequency of UFO reports in each US county
The map color codes the frequency of UFO reports in each US county. Credit: Medina, Kirkpatrick & Brewer, Scientific Reports (2023).

‘The West has a historical relationship to UAP (Unexplained Anomalous Phenomena) —Area 51 in Nevada, Roswell in New Mexico and here in Utah, we have Skinwalker Ranch in the Uinta Basin and military activity in the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground,’ says Medina. ‘Plus, there’s a robust outdoor community that recreates in public lands year-round. People are out and looking skyward.’ 

Academics have long dismissed UFO reports as wishy-washy imaginings of aliens and flying saucers. By providing geographical patterns for UFO reports, the study shows that people are seeing actual phenomena – even if they are unable to identify them. 

Neither Man nor Martian have yet confirmed what exactly is being spotted. Popular explanations include birds, bioluminescent creatures, hot air balloons, the planet Venus, ball lightning, technologies from Russia and/or China, and atmospheric ice crystals. 

Doubts have been raised as to the credibility of the 98,000 reports used in the study – sourced directly from the National UFO Reporting Centre (NUFORC)’s public database. Submissions to NUFORC are raw, subject to no validation. 

Reading through the 566 reports made to NUFORC in the past three months, one detects a smack of mockery. A report from Lee, New Hampshire, reads: ‘saw a UFO that then came into my yard + house.’ Another from Brandon, Mississippi, brashly claims that a ‘silver UAP at approximately 5000ft swims through the sky in an organic matter way with exhaust trail at faster than the speed of sound’ (sic). 

UFOs are increasingly considered a tangible threat to national security. 

‘The U.S. government—the military, intelligence and civil agencies—needs to understand what is in the operating domains to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its people,’ comments Sean Kirkpatrick, co-author of the study. ‘Unknowns are unacceptable in this age of ubiquitous sensors and data availability.’

Warning signs outside Area 51 in the Nevada Desert – a highly secretive military base, long-rumoured to hold alien spacecraft remains
Warning signs outside Area 51 in the Nevada Desert – a highly secretive military base, long-rumoured to hold alien spacecraft remains. Credit: Shutterstock/ Marius Sipa Photography.

In 2017, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had been running a secret UFO unit at the Office of Naval Intelligence for over a decade. 

In 2022, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence collaborated on founding an All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO). The office is widely considered an attempt to formalize responses to airborne and potential alien security threats. 

UFO research has even become a bargaining chip in US presidential elections. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, promised in 2016 to release private reports on alien activity if the Democrats ousted Trump. 

According to a University of Utah press release, the geographers now seek to extend their research towards socio-cultural factors – looking at how media like the X Files and events like the Space X Launch and congressional hearings of July 2023 impact report rates. 

‘There are many factors that can contribute to the report of anomalous objects,” said Simon Brewer, another co-author of the study. ‘By examining the spatial distribution of reports and how they relate to the local environment, we hope to provide some geographical context that may help resolve or understand reports by both the public and in military settings.’ 

The study was published in Scientific Reports on December 14th 2023. 

Written By

Penultimate-year undergraduate at the University of St Andrews, studying MA English and Modern History

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