There have been thousands of UFO sightings reported throughout the world, but some received more publicity than others and the stories are now entrenched in our culture. The bulk of UFO reports began during and after World War II, largely because of fear generated about possible air attacks after Japanese struck Pearl Harbor.
Reports continued to jet in through the mid-1960s before trailing off. A renewed interest occurred in the 1970s, due in part by the revelation that President Jimmy Carter issued a formal report in 1973 – before he became president and while he was Georgia’s governor – about a UFO sighting he experienced in 1969. President Ronald Reagan, along with his pilot, confirmed they and others saw a UFO in 1974 while Reagan was governor and traveling in his plane near Bakersfield, Calif. It wasn’t the only UFO Reagan saw. There are numerous public reports that he and his wife, Nancy, were late for a Hollywood dinner party once because they saw a UFO on the coast, which caused both to be visibly upset.
With the onset of smart phones, more UFOs are being recorded and posted online from all over the world. One of the latest from Los Angeles in 2015 became widespread news before it was debunked as a test missile launch off the coast. Below are some of the most famous sightings.
10. LAX, Los Angeles, 1992
This sighting involved hundreds of people, photographs and video, prompting even skeptical media reporters to print stories. The sighting is also deemed credible because witnesses included a pilot and copilot, who stated an unusual aircraft passed under the 747.
9. Westall Encounter, Australia, 1966
More than 200 people, including students and teachers, saw an object over Westall, Melbourne. The object descended into a field before taking off and passing over suburban neighborhoods. Most believe the object was an experimental military aircraft.
8. Yeni Kent Compound Turkey 2008
A series of unusual lights were seen in the sky over four months. A guard at the Yeni Kent Compound first reported the phenomenon and began recording the lights over the summer. The circulated videos became well known in the UFO community.
7. Sao Paula Sighting Brazil, 1986
Military planes scrambled to intercept 20 UFOs detected on radar in Sao Paulo. Reports are the UFOs disappeared when air forces closed in on them. Most conclude the objects were debris from the Soviet space station Salyut-7, which burned as they re-entered the atmosphere.
6. Tehran, 1976
Both radar and eyewitnesses reported an unusual object in the sky over Tehran, Iran’s capital, Sept. 19, 1976. Pilots of two F-4 Phantom II jet interceptors later reported they lost communications and instrumentation as they moved closer to the objects. Electronics and communications worked again once they withdrew. The incident was significant enough to provoke concern among U.S. defense officials and the White House.
5. Washington D.C. 1952
There were several sightings of unidentified objects in the skies over the nation’s capital from July 12 through July 29, 1952. The first incident was reported when an air traffic controller saw seven objects on radar. They didn’t move as typical aircraft, prompting concern during a time when the Cold War was ongoing.
4. Phoenix Lights, 1997
Witnesses in two states and Mexico saw lights moving quickly from Nevada through Phoenix March 13, 1997. The lights, described as a triangular formation, were also seen in Sonora Mexico. There was another incident the same day as stationary lights were also observed, but those were identified as flares dropped in an U.S. Air Force training exercise.
3. Rendlesham Forest Lights, England 1980
Multiple U.S. Air Force personnel reported eyewitness accounts of flying and landed crafts over a two to three day period in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk, England, in December 1980. The events occurred just beyond RAF Woodbridge, which was being used by the U.S. Air Force. It became so famous that it also called “Britain’s Roswell.”
2. Battle of Los Angeles 1942
The California coast was on alert in February 1942 because of the Pearl Harbor attack occurring only two months earlier. There were military personnel constantly on guard to ensure the west coast didn’t face the same fate. Unknown objects, included one large one, were spotted. The large one hovered for more than six hours with military personnel firing more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition and the city calling for a total blackout. Yet, the aircraft appeared to never sustain damage. A picture of the battle was printed in the LA Times the next day.
1. The Roswell Incident, Roswell, N.M., 1947
A crash was reported on a ranch the summer of 1947. Military investigators were at the site immediately to conduct an investigation. A July 8, 1947, press release from a Roswell Army Air Field public information officer stated a flying disk was recovered, leading newspapers to headline their print editions with the crash of a spaceship. The government quickly retracted the statement, instead saying the crash was a experimental surveillance balloon. The retraction quickly led to conspiracy theories about a government cover up.
Even though these incidents are the most well-known and documented with photos, videos and media reports, that doesn’t mean that UFO sightings are purely a modern phenomenon. Similar experiences have been documented throughout history.
A newspaper article from 1987 describes an airship seen over Aurora, Texas. Witnesses describe it as going 10 to 12 miles an hour as it traveled over the public square and eventually collided with a windmill tower. The aircraft exploded, sending debris in all directions. The article said the pilot’s remains show he was not a resident of Earth.
Witnesses in Nuremberg in 1561 claimed to see an interstellar battle complete with crosses, spheres and flying cannons one April morning. A broadsheet published at the time of the event describes the reports. There are several theories on what locals saw ranging from an astrological phenomenon to mass hysteria to psychological delusion. Some say the broadsheet simply isn’t reliable as it reported on other events deemed impossible.
The earliest recorded UFO sighting occurred in 74 B.C. Plutarch, a historical writer, recounted the event during a battle between the Roman army and Mithras of Pontus in Phrygia. According to Plutarch, an apparition dropped out of the sky between the two armies, throwing the battle into confusion. It was described as a large, silver, with the shape of a wine jar and producing flames. The two armies separated at the sight of it, according to the historian.