How to solve the UFO problem

Don Herbison-Evans

Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, South Australia Division, Adelaide, October 1971, pp 38-40.


For many years, people have been trying to solve the UFO problem, and apart from a few believers and disbelievers, they have failed. It is now time to try an altogether different approach.

Previous studies have been along three lines:

  • Theoretical:
    looking for places in the universe where anthropomorphic life could flourish. This is a waste of time because we do not know whether life can be based on other elements beside Carbon, or indeed, whether life can exist in other regimes of temperature and pressure, such as inside a sun or an interstellar cloud.

  • Anecdotal:
    analysing accidental sighting reports. This is a waste of time because people are too unprepared to record what they experience in a way that will constitute proof for others.

  • Observational:
    the Condon study (Condon, p 58) had teams of well equipped investigators ready at a moments notice to to go anywhere where an accidental sighting was reported. This was a waste of time because people always wait until a sighting is over before reporting it.

    One can make a little headway by making people a little more prepared for accidental sightings, equipping them with scientific apparatus that is easy to to carry everywhere one goes, e.g. diffraction grating and various types of polaroid mounted as 35 mm slides. However this will only really satisfy the observer alone about what was seen, and will hardly prove it to others.

    In order to solve the problem properly, we must go out and actively look for UFOs. Then we can investigate them on our own terms.

    The big snag with this is that UFOs are rare. To see how rare we must examine the sighting statistics e.g. Project Blue Book received about 10,000 reports over about 10 years from the USA (area about 10 million sq Km). Taking the field of view of the human eye or camera as about 10 sq Km, then these statistics suggest that a single observer/camera will see on average a UFO every 1000 years (10 million hours).

    Of course, a high proportion of the reported sightings are misinterpretations of natural phenomena or just hoaxes; on the other hand, only a small proportion of people who see anything unusual will go to the trouble and risk of ridicule by reporting it. Assuming these opposite effects approximately cancel out, we see how rare UFOs are. Thus the statement that UFOs were not noticed in any of the photos during a 3,000 hour photographic search for meteors by all sky cameras (Condon, p 543) is not surprising.


    In order to get on average approximately one observation of a UFO in a year of observing, we need about 1000 observation stations.

    It would be nice to monitor at each station all the different fields and radiations of Physics:

  • Gravitational field,
  • Electric field,
  • Magnetic field,
  • Particle emissions (electron, neutrino, neutron, muon, pion, etc),
  • Electromagnetic Waves (radio, infra-red, optical, ultra-violet, X-ray, and Gamma-ray)

    To record all these would require equipment costing thousands of dollars per station. Just one chart recorder for recording one of these items costs about $1000 alone.

    The cheapest monitor would probably be a cheap camera equipped with a diffraction grating over the lens, recording just the optical spectrum of Electromagnetic waves from the above list. This could be deployed just at night, bearing in mind that the most frequent type of UFO report is a light in the sky at night. The diffraction grating would give the spectrum of any lights in the field of view. From the spectrum of a light recorded by such a camera, in favorable cases, one can discover the temperature, composition, magnetic field and velocity of the source of the light, bearing in mind that nearly all we know about the sun and the stars have been discovered using their spectra. Such a camera with an automatic shutter need only cost about $200 per station, or a total of $200,000 for the 1000 stations required to produce approximately one UFO picture per year.


    One of the commonly held beliefs of Ufologists is that some places are far more often frequented by UFOs than others.

    If this is true, then if these places can be discovered, considerable economy could result from placing observing stations there.

    Perhaps the first thing to do is to see if this belief is true. This could be done cheaply using magnetic counters. It is another widespread belief that UFOs are strongly magnetic. Thus a UFO detector can be constructed using a compass needle and a pair of electrical contacts. If a few thousand of these devices were left spread widely over the country, we might discover if these beliefs of Ufologists are justified. Each such device would cost about $1, giving a cost of only a few thousand dollars for this preliminary project.


    Information costs money. If people want to know whether we are being visited by extra-terrestrial spaceships, they will have to pay to find out.


    Condon E U, & Gillmor D S, "Scientific Study of UFOs", Vision Press, London, 1969.

    (updated 15 August 2007)