Considering how many famous people — from former President Jimmy Carter to rock singer Sammy Hagar — have gone public about seeing UFOs over the years, you could easily get the impression that you're the only person in the world who hasn't seen one. But if you're not among the ranks of UFO spotters yet, there's no need to feel left out. Though a 2005 Gallup survey showed that about 25 percent of Americans believe that extraterrestrials have visited Earth at some point in the past, only about eight percent of Americans claim to have seen mysterious objects in the sky, a 2008 poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University revealed.
The pollsters haven't yet thought to ask how many people want to see a UFO. But our guess is that plenty of folks are eager to be another Roy Neary, the character portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss in the 1977 sci-fi thriller "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." In 2008, the town of Stephenville, Texas, attracted media attention from as far away as Japan and Finland after about 30 local residents claimed to have seen an intensely-lit airborne object that one witness told ABC was a mile long and a half-mile wide.
In a 1958 paper, visionary psychotherapist Carl Jung argued that the important thing wasn't whether UFOs actually were alien spacecraft, but what the experience of believing you've seen a UFO means. Jung viewed UFO spotting as tied into humans' fundamental need to make sense of what often seems like a random, unfathomable and perhaps meaningless reality.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to spot a UFO, here are a few tips on how to do it.
5: Head to a UFO hot spot.
Perhaps aliens, like Bluefin tuna, are migratory creatures who return again and again to the same spots. Or maybe mass hysteria is strongest when it takes hold in isolated locales. Either way, there seem to be clusters of UFO sightings in certain places on the world map.
While Roswell, N.M., might seem like the most logical choice for a UFO hot spot, there are other options, according to Travel + Leisure. For example, you could head to the El Yunque, a massive rainforest along Puerto Rico's northeastern coast, where UFO investigators from the world come to study. Puerto Rico also has the advantage of being a hotspot for USOs, or unidentified submersible objects, a subset of flying saucers that shoot over the water's surface. Wiltshire, UK, near Stonehenge, and the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russia, are also spots where residents have reported sightings.
4: Properly equip yourself for an alien encounter.
If you're a UFO believer, what you don't want is this: to be invited to appear on "The Maury Show" and have to walk out onstage with only your fever-dream reminiscences of diminutive, super-intelligent "greys" and a wrist watch that's precisely 15 minutes slow as proof that you're not delusional. (Missing time, of course, is a common phenomenon observed by UFO spotters, but you can't expect a skeptical audience to know that.)
To avoid such embarrassment, we suggest equipping yourself with a list of evidence-gathering items recommended by MUFON, probably the largest and best established international network of UFO investigators. Essential items include a camera, a notebook and pen or pencil, a compass, and a tape measure, which will come in handy if you need to measure tracks left behind by alien landing gear. You also should bring tweezers and containers or baggies for preserving any physical evidence of extraterrestrial visitation. An audio recorder for taking verbal notes or doing witness interviews, a garden trowel, chalk lines and a Geiger counter to measure radiation are other useful tools.
3: Know your alternative explanations.
For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of former Arizona Gov. Fife Symington. It's 1997, and you see an array of triangular lights flying in the sky over Phoenix. You go public about it, and then, sometime later, it's revealed that an Air National Guard unit was flying in a triangular formation that night, dropping flares as part of a training exercise. In spite of this, you insist that, no, you've seen aircraft and flown on aircraft, and this was no formation of terrestrial aircraft. By this time, your credibility has vanished — as quickly as the "ball lightning" phenomenon to which government authorities once attributed UFO reports in the 1960s.
The truth is, about 90 percent of reported UFO sightings turn out to be sightings of something besides a UFO, according to veteran Kentucky-based UFO investigator David MacDonald. So before you go UFO hunting, you might familiarize yourself with the more common, terrestrial phenomena that UFO newbies mistake for alien craft. A list developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969 includes weather balloons, advertising blimps, military flares, migrating flocks of birds, clouds, meteors and reflections of light from bright sources, among other items. If you keep this list in mind, you'll be better equipped to determine whether what you see fits into the 10 percent of sightings that can't be easily dismissed.
2: Train yourself to gather data and record it in a systematic fashion.
The description, "Wow, it was, like, really awesome, with all sorts of glowing thingies on it!" is not going to earn any props from fellow Ufologists. In a 1993 Hartford Courant interview, Connecticut-based UFO researcher John White gave some advice that's still pretty solid after all these years. White advised using binoculars for spotting, and visually documenting the sighting with a still camera or video recorder. These days, you're likely to have both on your smartphone, for which you can buy an after-market optical zoom lens if you're so inclined. Getting some audio also can be useful, since, according to White, many UFOs make a "high-pitched humming or quavering sound." Also, you should think out how you would visually estimate an alien craft's dimensions, as well as its speed and altitude. To practice, pick a more mundane flying object, such as a terrestrial aircraft, and hold a coin between your thumb and forefinger at arm's length to see how much of the horizon it covers. Then you can compare the coin's coverage of the horizon with the portion covered by a UFO, and use that to judge the object's size and speed.
1: Find other witnesses to confirm your sighting
In "The UFO Encyclopedia," author and researcher William J. Birnes notes that the best way to substantiate a UFO sighting is to have multiple sets of ears and eyeballs contributing to the report; that way each person can confirm the general details of the sighting. Ideally, of course, you could go out to a UFO sighting cluster area with some fellow UFO enthusiasts whom you know and trust, and team up to do surveillance. But since UFOs usually appear out of nowhere, the next best thing is locate other witnesses after the fact and get them to file reports as well. Back in 2008, after the UFO sighting in Stephenville, Texas, the state chapter of MUFON convinced dozens of people who had seen the object to gather for a mass meeting to document and share their observations, according to MSNBC. By amassing data from that many sources, the Texas researchers made it much more difficult for skeptics simply to dismiss a sighting as a lone case of misperception, hysteria or wishful thinking.