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!

Encounters before the Internet were entered retroactively from historical documents.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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Thanks for reading!

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


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

  1. Dunno what to make of these things. Cool data visualization, though.

    Historically, most of us don’t officially report our sightings of strange things, we only tell our friends and family. Maybe spiking American narcissism in the age of Facebook and Instagram is contributing. I never reported my two sightings; not the one from when I was a kid, and not the one my entire herd of kids saw with me thirty years later. That one was cool and odd. But both of those sightings were VERY different from what others report. No one reported the demon my kid was visited by. No one reported the visions from God seen by two other family members. I don’t report my former hobbies of inception and remote viewing parlor tricks. Most people in the rest of the world don’t officially report anything. What would be the point? The world is a strange and interesting place. Let’s just all accept it. Even those of us who work in the sciences; even after decades in commercially successful engineering, every week or so something real surprises me.


    1. Completely agree, I never reported my 3 sightings either but then again I run an organization that deals with UFO’s, Abduction, Bigfoot, and of course Spirits. Most of my paranormal encounters were in the Army as half my life was in the Army so that would explain why. Anyway, are UFO sightings on the rise I believe so and they are global


  2. with new news all the time on new planets compatible for life I think its all in preparation for telling us the truth(which we already know) that there has been and still is contact with other life forms


  3. Most,if not all of these claims to have seen UFOS,or most likely,”mysterious lights in the sky” are just that “claims”. So called photo or video evidence from these witnesses,usually(and questionably) turn out classically “blurred” which leaves more questions than answers: were they fake?photogrphic/video manipulation?
    Most,if not all everyday cellphone pics and vids are usually acceptible sharp,but when it comes to so called “UFOS” 99% of all shots tend to be blurry! why,what’s the logical explanation to this tendency?


  4. I had a “close encounter” with a UFO in march last year while vacationing in the Philippines…It was about 10pm…I saw this orange, red, yellow light (like the color of fire) about 2 to 3 light poles up. As i got underneath the light, I noticed it was in the center of a round shape thing. The shape is not noticeable unless underneath it, because its color matches the pitch dark skies above, otherwise, only the light is. I noticed the shape because it blocked my view of stars in the skies. As my eyes adapts to darkness, i was staring and seeing this round shaped thing, perhaps the size of half an official basketball court, that just hovers up there, motionless, no sound, no movements from trees, no disturbances around at all. I was standing there mesmerized, looking up at it. After a while, the light became intense, as if a car revving its engine, I felt warmth air as a result, and then, it moved, upward, and stayed for a while, then moved again, sidewards to its right, stayed still for a moment, then zoomed away, that in the blink of an eye, it was just a tiny dot in the skies. With its speed, I would estimate, in less than an hour it could reached Mars or Moon. During the whole occurrence my state of mind was somewhat thwarted or distorted, I was so awestruck, not even the term “UFO” came to mind, until after the thing was gone, and I guess, as I got my senses back. My cellphone have camera, but to no avail, never came to mind of taking picture either. What I had was a vivid memory of that “thing” I saw, and the inexplicable experienced of what took placed before me, that particular night..I saw their “spacecraft”…so closed…it’s…a stone’s throw away… “UFO’s” are for real….


    1. A couple of years ago around October my brother and I were looking at an orange moon, we thought. It was cloudy and only a small area of the moon was visible. It looked like a harvest moon. Although we began to notice that the moon, behind the cloud cover, exposed areas that looked like riveted panels. As we looked at the strange sight, what we thought was the moon, went from just off center night sky to past the horizon in less then 15 minutes.. From our view with the cloud coverage we saw what would have been a little over a quarter of the moon. The problem though was the size was about six to eight times larger than normal. The speed at which it traveled was tremendous in comparison with any other night. Also we couldn’t quite understand the riveted panels, we thought it was just the clouds making a pattern. What made us realize that it was not the moon was the speed of descent. The earth would have to have been turning or the moon moving at least six to eight times normal speed for the moon to move that fast. When we realized the object wasn’t the moon, it was already gone. We both stood a few seconds then I asked my brother ‘Was that the moon?’ He said , ‘Couldn’t have been, the moon does not move that fast’. We stood there a few minutes and then then just shook our heads. A camera wouldn’t have caught a picture, and it was too dark for video. Whatever it was, it was large and moved very fast. But we only knew it wasn’t the moon.


  5. Here’s another one for Washington State. My family had a UFO in our back yard. First we saw a star shaped light in the sky above the highway leading to Aberdeen, WA. The light split in two stars connected in the middle with a strait light. Then, it sent down a beam of white light in a field next to a river, all next to the highway 12. Next, the beam retracted and the two became one star again and sped off and vanished. The back yard, a glowing light appeared, we freaked, called family in a nearby town. Eventually we all fell asleep and the next night, the same, we had the UFO lights for a week. One morning I felt myself being lowered back into my bed/body. I fully awoke, felt quite exhausted, stood up facing the closet. I couldn’t believe what I saw, a purple pyramid triangle less than a foot in diameter floating and spinning in mid air. I freaked, then just put my hand right in the middle of the triangle and pulled it out, I called the kids, they came in and saw it. Then it vanished. Just before my father died, he snapped a photo of a huge bright light, I have the pic and it is not blurred. In the same town at night after my father died I took a drive at night. While driving I smelled my fathers pipe tobacco half and half he smoked in the cab. He was sitting right beside me, I didn’t see a real visual yet I knew. Then, a giant white light appeared in the sky over a field, I freaked, I stopped my truck in the middle of the road and stepped out on a strait stretch and stared at it. It was the size of a football field in the sky. Next, it vanished. It was obvious now, as i connected the experiences. My mother says she was abducted, my father has the pic, was with me in spirit at this sighting, I was abducted, the purple triangle, the star sighting. I’m an Alien for sure and I know my father is with that giant white light/ship in the sky. Aliens take me to their ship at night in my sleep and give me knowledge. The last thing they said was this, change my behavior and I can modify my DNA. I know where I’m going when I leave this earth. Want to read about my Sasaquash experience? If you ever wondered if they are real, take it from me, they are. The bible and religion has no bearing on anything of mine or my family. I just watched the Jesus story and all I could do was shake my head. All that drama for 14 original pages (university quote). My degree, social sciences BA and masters credits in education and business administration. One last message from the aliens, help everyone you possibly can.


  6. I’m a 37yo combat veteran of Afghanistan. I served in the 82nd Airborne as an infantry Sergeant. I was raised by a police officer, and would have been a police officer if I hadn’t taken shrapnel to the legs in Afghanistan.

    I live in the Pacific Northwest – Oregon. I’ve had 3 sightings over 5 years here. Two reported to MUFON, I still have the emails talking to the State Director. I do a lot of night photography, astrophotography, and I have a solid eye for aircraft/drones/Venus/the ISS, etc.

    The sighting that convinced me we at least have amazing military technology, if not actual alien visitation, was with my daughter’s Mom and an Air Force buddy, outside her house. We thought we saw the ISS traversing the sky, west to east, and were all watching it. But after a minute of looking like the ISS, it seemed to curve towards us and take on the appearance of a falling star. It did this for another 20-30 seconds and then it literally just stopped and hovered, flickering orange and red. It did this for about a minute. Then it faded out.

    We were all stunned and had no idea WTF we just saw and then my daughter’s Mom is like “OMG it’s still there but it’s dark” and we look and there’s this dark Moon/disc/sphere just hanging there, much lower now, only looking about half a mile away at most, and it floats out north over Salem, Oregon, the state capital. It was like a dark shimmery moon. It was unreal. My daughter’s Mom cried. My AF buddy and I couldn’t rationalize. Still can’t.

    That sighting started my UFO hunting, started me looking up and watching and always having a camera on me. I caught my second sighting on iPhone video and Canon camera with my sister and have pics posted on my Twitter. Still have the RAW images as well for anyone wanting to examine. I missed my third sighting photographically, I went outside to get my pizza delivery and the pizza girl was freaking out because there were two orbs in the fog above my house. Honestly I don’t think about that one much because it looked like something out’ve a movie and is a little wtf to me, and it sounds crazy, so I only told family (and have those emails too).

    Oregon is a hotspot, and I’d say especially south of Salem. I’m a rational, level-headed dude. There’s something we don’t have an official explanation for up there.


  7. I also have a buddy I served with in Afghanistan who works for the DEA and is 100% willing to go on record saying his platoon (mounted anti-tank) tracked an orb/UFO for half an hour over Afghanistan. Most solid, intelligent, calls BS when he sees it guy I know. Afghanistan was/is definitely a place where secret projects would be flying around, so doesn’t mean it’s alien – but is still a fascinating and weird legitimate sighting.


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