UFO Sightings

August 2019 Dataset

Posted by David Velleca on August 8, 2019

Note in an effort to better support the #ThrowbackDataThursday community initiative, we'll be moving to a monthly challenge, where a Dataset is posted on the first Thursday of the month with community submissions shared throughout the month!

Historical Background

While UFO sightings really hit their prime in the late 1940's, the earliest recorded sightings in history date back to antiquity. UFO is the catch all term for any unidentified flying object, but is typically associated with aliens. The number of sightings greatly increased in the 20th century, especially following the advent of airplanes. They really hit their peak after World War II.

The technology boom during World War II, primarily due to the work of the Germans, created (or at least led to the design of) plenty of objects that would have been unfamiliar to most people. One of the most common of these were V2 rockets and the rockets that the Soviet Union and America would eventually develop from them. Several sightings in the late 1940's in Scandinavia have been linked to Soviet rocket experiments.

In the United States, following World War II, both the Air Force and FBI were extremely interested in the surge of sightings of unidentified flying objects. In fact, two separate Air Force investigations concluded that "This 'flying saucer' situation is not all imaginary or seeing too much in some natural phenomenon. Something is really flying around" and "the phenomenon is something real and not visionary or fictitious." Based on these findings, the US Air Force established Project Sign, resulting in a top secret report that was eventually destroyed.

About this same time, the Roswell incident occurred, when what was initially thought to be the wreckage of a flying saucer was discovered on a ranch in a small town in New Mexico. The Air Force got involved and claimed the crashed material belonged to a typical weather balloon. However, by that point, the story had gone the 1940's equivalent of viral.

A few years later, programs such as the U2 program began at a remote location in Nevada near Groom Lake. Known as Area 51, the site was extremely isolated and heavily secured. The aircraft developed as part of the U2 and other programs took off from the air field at Area 51 and their behavior, shape, altitude and speed were significantly different than the aircraft that preceeded them.

Over time, Roswell and Area 51 became intertwined and served as fodder for conspiracy theorists. Theories abound that the secretive Area 51 houses the remnants of the Roswell crash, as well as countless other UFOs. At the time, some thought that the unusual aircraft associated with Area 51 were actually recovered extraterrestrial vessels, or that recovered technology had influenced our designs and technology.

Even to this day, Area 51 is still associated with UFOs and aliens in pop culture and conspiracy theories alike. Additionally, the security is as serious as ever, with signs along the perimeter warning against trespassing and photography, while also alerting that the "use of deadly force is authorized."

In July of this year, a tongue in cheek event was proposed on Facebook to "Storm Area 51." Despite the joke, nearly 2 million people responded with their interest in attending the event. Scheduled for September 20, 2019, we'll have to see what really happens.

In preparation of the event, let's explore UFO sighting data! We'd really love to see what you can do with this month's dataset! Download the data and see what you can visualize. Create your viz and post your work to Tableau Public and Twitter with the hashtag #ThrowbackDataThursday, tagging @TThrowbackThurs. We'll feature community vizzes throughout the month!

Data Source

This month's data comes from The National UFO Reporting Center. Please be sure to cite this source on your viz.