What’s That in the Sky?

People have seen strange flying objects for decades. Are they visitors from another world or something else? 

Distant lights seem to dance across the night sky. A glowing disc hovers above the treetops before—poof!—it disappears. An unusual object zigs and zags through the clouds like no known aircraft ever could. 

Each year, thousands of people in the U.S. report seeing unidentified flying objects, better known as UFOs. Some people dismiss these claims as nonsense. Yet more than 40 percent of Americans believe that UFOs are alien spacecraft, according to a survey last year by the Gallup research company.

Do aliens exist? Or are there other explanations for UFO sightings? Even the U.S. government wants to find out. It has spent years secretly investigating the phenomena. But a report prepared last summer by the U.S. Department of Defense didn’t give many answers. 

“[There] is something unknown in our skies,” says Ravi Kopparapu, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “We should be investigating it. 

We should be collecting data and then try to understand what they are.”

Strange Sightings

For centuries, people have gazed at the sky and wondered if life exists beyond our planet. But the fascination with extraterrestrial beings really took off after the development of modern rockets in the mid-1900s. Fictional encounters with aliens became popular story lines in magazines, books, movies, and TV shows. 

America’s first well-known UFO sighting occurred 75 years ago. On June 24, 1947, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine circular objects near Mount Rainier in Washington State. Arnold said the glowing discs darted through the sky at supersonic speeds. Newspapers described them as “flying saucers,” a term that is often used today. 

Around the same time, a rancher found a mysterious wreckage in the desert near a military base in Roswell, New Mexico. The U.S. government said it was debris from a balloon used to monitor the weather. But some people believed (and still believe!) that it was the remains of an alien spaceship. 


The story of Kenneth Arnold’s encounter with “flying saucers” appeared in this magazine in 1948.

Spies in the Skies

Over the years, the number of UFO sightings kept climbing. In 2017, news organizations revealed a secret government program to track UFOs. The New York Times published videos of encounters between U.S. Navy pilots and unexplained objects.

In 2020, Congress demanded a report from the Department of Defense explaining what was going on. Officials investigated 144 unexplained phenomena from the past two decades. The report, released in June 2021, gave a definite explanation of only one: “a large deflating balloon.” The other 143 cases remain unsolved.

The report didn’t mention extraterrestrial beings. But many scientists say we should keep looking to the sky for answers. 

“If you see something that is unknown or unexplainable, don’t hesitate to ask questions,” Kopparapu says. “You never know what you’ll find.”

1. What is this article mostly about?

2. According to the article, what led to people’s fascination with extraterrestrial beings in the mid-1900s?

3. What possible explanations are given for UFO sightings in the sidebar, “UFO Sightings Explained”?

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