Image: UFO Sightings Map (screencap)
Since 1947 when Kenneth Arnold first reported a “flying saucer” over Washington, UFOs have been in the public imagination. The communities who believe in them are divided on what they are—the most common answer is “aliens,” but there are a large number who would say they’re high tech government tests of futuristic aircraft. And of course, the skeptics go with swamp gas, mistaken airplanes, Venus, high altitude balloons, or whatever else.
This map, created by Max Galka, doesn’t say what UFOs are or aren’t. But what it does is something even more fascinating: it applies data science to an area considered by many to be a psuedoscience.
Galka worked with the National UFO Reporting Center to generate a geographic visualization of where UFO sightings are taking place. The bright green points on the map correspond to a specific sighting. Click, and there’s more detail, generated from the reports, and broken down by the number of witnesses.
"The first thing that struck me was how big some of the mass sightings actually were,” he told Motherboard. “I had always thought of UFO sightings as urban legend. But when thousands of people witness something in the sky that they cannot explain, that's not urban legend, it's a real life mystery."
Galka also wrote a blog post that looks at frequency by time of year, proximity to airports, rocket launches, and meteor showers. While some of it was inconclusive, one thing does stand out: there’s a huge spike on July 4th, and many of those sightings report fireworks, as Galka points out.
Since it’s using user generated information, expect spellings like “freeky” and “constilation.” But also expect a deep, fascinating dive into what’s a modern day folklore to some, and evidence of a cover-up to others.