[dropcap]A[/dropcap] metallic flying aircraft with a disk-shaped body, surrounded by an eerie glowing light moves so quickly across the night sky that if you blink, you just might miss it. Unidentified flying objects have played an iconic part in popular culture since the 1950s, especially in science fiction, and have become synonymous with the idea of extraterrestrial life.
According to a 012National Geographic survey, about 36 percent of Americans believe that UFOs are real and 11 percent claim to have seen one themselves. If one hasn’t seen a UFO, 20 percent of Americans know someone who has allegedly seen one in their lifetime.
One of the earliest and most notable works to include this idea is The War of the Worlds, written by H.G. Wells in 1898. Its later 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles led to a widespread panic by listeners, some who truly believed that the events were real and that Earth was being invaded by aliens. Years later, some are still skeptical about whether or not aliens exist, while others believe it wholeheartedly.
The term “flying saucer” was first coined in the late 1940s when a chain of nine UFOs was seen flying across the sky by a pilot named Kenneth Arnold. Reaching nationwide coverage, this became the first post-war UFO sighting in the United States, leading to numerous more within the ensuing weeks.
Joshua Colwell, a professor at UCF’s physics department, has studied planetary sciences and astronomy for years. He finds the topic fascinating but says there is a big difference between the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrial life.
“I believe that [it’s] very likely that there is life elsewhere in the universe,” he said. “However, I do not believe that there is any evidence to support a claim that any of that life has ever come to this planet.”
Without having any direct evidence to support the claim that there have been signals sent from alien intelligence or that other life forms exist, it is difficult to say for sure if people from Earth are alone or not. One of the simplest reasons that Colwell believes that society accepts the idea of life elsewhere is because of the extent of life here on Earth.
“The life on our planet seems to be remarkably robust and exists in virtually every habitat that there is on the planet,” Colwell said. “So even in the most extreme conditions, on our own planet, we find some form of life. It ranges from the most dry and cold regions of the Antarctic to the deep sea, the bottom of the ocean.”
Lorelei Metcalf, a 2010 UCF alumna, has never seen a UFO but she doesn’t necessarily believe that people on Earth are alone.
“I believe they could exist; there could be [life on other planets],” she said. “I guess I’m open to the possibility of it because, I mean, humans exist, so there are strange things that could happen, absolutely. I’m sure it’s not anywhere nearby in our galaxy or anything. But I don’t know what’s out beyond there, so I’m open to it.”
Although UFOs are exciting to spot, a majority of the time these so-called alien spacecrafts can be mistaken for not-so-exceptional, everyday things. According to LifesLittleMysteries.com, airplanes, missile tests and strange cloud formations have been confused with flying saucers, but the most famous and most contemplated of them all are military experiments, more specifically, the Roswell UFO incident.
Colwell has not seen any evidence to support those claims and does not believe that there was any alien involvement in the incident. He said that the average person associates the title of UFO with extraterrestrial beings, not an object that is typically seen on Earth. Although the literal meaning is an unidentified flying object, society will sometimes allow their minds to believe in the unbelievable, he says.
Angie Berry, a UCF accounting junior, believes that there is something out there, but she’s not ready to jump to conclusions just yet. While she says that it is a big possibility that there are other life forms in the universe, she also knows that they are going to be different from what is presented in movies.
“I think they’re going to look a lot like us,” Berry said. “I don’t think they’re going to look like what they portray on TV, like they’re going to look weird and stuff like that.”
The UFO debate is still present today, with both sides eager to prove the other wrong, but without the proper evidence to support any claims, the uncertainty still lingers. If there is one thing that we can agree on, it is the fact that our imagination is our only limit, Colwell said.
This leads to one simple question: Are we really alone in the universe?
Sarika Ramdular – central florida future