I Want to Believe: UFO Sightings Around the World

Do Aliens walk among us?

The National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) is “dedicated to the collection and dissemination of objective UFO data,” and keeps careful logs of all UFO sightings worldwide. This post is restricted to 20th century encounters: a total of 104,947 events since 1905.

Sightings are at an all-time high!

ufo_peryear
Encounters before the Internet were entered retroactively from historical documents.

One of the first recorded UFO sightings comes from Portland in 1905 (of course, seeing UFOs before it was cool), where a “buzzing,” sphere-shaped UFO descended from the clouds. Other shapes began cropping up later, with Saucers dominating the scene until the 1990s, when mysterious lights became the most popular.

ufo_pictest

The plurality of post-Internet sightings take the form of strange lights in the sky. Why lights instead of tangible shapes? Maybe claiming to see “lights” is less likely to make your friends and family react skeptically than claiming you saw an actual UFO up-close, especially now that everyone walks around with a handy picture-taking device in their pocket.

ufo_lights
What could it be??

Or maybe the mysterious lights are actually fireworks. Sightings of UFOs spike in the USA on July 4th! Strangely though, this “July 4th effect” only gets huge starting in 2008.

ufo_merica
Other explanation: Aliens like fireworks.

I couldn’t find anything obvious about fireworks in 2008. Maybe that’s the year someone invented a new type of glowing, floating sphere firework.

So how do sightings differ around the world? Each event is logged with its location, so matching the text entries to longitude and latitude lets us plot the events on a map.

ufo_worldper10m
The median (50th percentile) is white: countries with lower-than-median sightings are colored blue, while countries with higher-than-median sightings are colored red. Countries with no reported sightings are gray.

I capped the heatmap at 25 sightings per 10M, but as you’ll see in a second, that’s because people in the USA are hilariously more likely to report a UFO sighting than anyone else. If I let the scale be free, it pretty much makes the rest of the map the same shade of blue.

In fact, people in the USA report about 2500 sightings per 10M, a number almost 300 times greater than the global median. Why are Americans obsessed with UFOs? Maybe it’s related to Internet access. You have to have Internet access to submit a report, after all.

ufo_internet
The outlier USA making trouble for my axes again. Here we have sightings predicted by the internet access (linear and quadratic effects).

But there’s only a weak positive relationship between the amount of Internet access in a country and the number of UFO sightings its citizens report online. Taking into account Internet access leaves a large amount of variance left unexplained (94%). Weird. Here’s a Quora thread on this topic if you want to do more digging.

Now that we’ve seen the USA to be such an outlier, let’s take a closer look at it broken down by state.

ufo_per10m
Keep Portland weird?

As you can see, the most likely places for a UFO sighting are the West in general, and the Northwest in particular. Honorable mention goes to the Northeast: Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire rack up a good number of sightings per capita even as New York lags behind. (Per capita graphs are always interesting to interpret because they are influenced so heavily by the number of people in each state… well, duh.)

To close out this post, look at this interesting and totally not coincidental effect I found. The number of undocumented immigrants (called “illegal aliens” by some) is inversely related to the number of extraterrestrial aliens. It seems there’s only so much space in each state for outsiders.

ufo_aliens

Thanks for reading!

Want more data visualization? Check out my other posts at: https://vizthis.wordpress.com/

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132 thoughts on “I Want to Believe: UFO Sightings Around the World

  1. Hello, I love in Staten Island NY and today (9/11/2017) at 9:55pm I spotted a UFO. At first I thought it was a falling star or something but then it did a uturn and flew in the opposite direction incredibly fast. There were close to a dozen airplanes in the sky but this definitely wasn’t one. It zig across the sky from right to left and left to right a couple more times before vanishing. I just wanted to know if anyone else spotted it besides me?

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  2. Hi Sammonfort,

    Nice work on the visualisations. I’m atm working a University project visualising the NUFORC dataset, as well.. but just started with the basics. 😉 Can you tell me more about the method (and tool) you used for categorising and visualising the sightings by shape? I will be looking into visualising the sightings by year by colour (like for ex. Manovich’s phototrail).

    Love to hear!

    Jolyn.

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    1. Hey Jolyn, thanks! The program I used is called R. It’s an open-source (free) program. There’s a bit of a steep learning curve with it, but there are a ton of tutorials out there that could help you get started. (The specific graphing package I used is called ggplot2.)

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