Feb 8, 2024 - Energy & Environment

America's UFO hotspots, mapped

πŸ‘½ Reported UFO sightings per 100k residents
Data: National UFO Reporting Center, U.S. Census Bureau; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The American West is the place to go if you want to spot some UFOs β€” especially (no surprise) Lincoln County, Nevada, home to the fabled Area 51, a top-secret U.S. Air Force base.

Why it matters: Discussion and reports of UFOs β€” or the more modern term, UAPs (unidentified anomalous phenomenon) β€”Β have been going more mainstream in recent years amid a push for answers from lawmakers and others.

  • Some view UAPs as a national security concern β€” what people are seeing out there could be experimental craft from Russia, China or other U.S. adversaries. (Those fears were accelerated by last year's dramatic Chinese spy balloon encounter.)
  • Commercial and military pilots have also been increasingly public about their inexplicable sightings. That's a sea change from decades past when pilots who talked openly about such matters were often ostracized.

Zoom in: Nevada's Lincoln County had the most reported UFO sightings among U.S. counties between 2000 and 2023, at 820.9 per 100,000 residents, according to the National UFO Reporting Center β€” a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization where people can file reports of unusual phenomena.

  • It's followed by Arthur County, Nebraska (618.6 per 100,000 residents) and Alpine County, California (594.1).
  • There are some hotspots out East too, including New York's Hamilton County (451.9) and Dare County, North Carolina (371.4).

πŸ’¬ Alex's thought bubble: The map above roughly correlates to dark sky locations. That tracks, given that it's easier to see interesting stuff in the night sky when you're far from sources of light pollution.

  • Hamilton County, for example, is smack dab in the middle of the Adirondacks, and home to some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi.

Details: Anyone can submit a report to the National UFO Reporting Center, but volunteers there work to weed out what they consider obvious hoaxes or false reports.

  • Only a fraction of people who see something unusual actually file a report, says Christian Stepien, the center's chief technology officer.
  • "I would estimate that people who see stuff that they think is a UFO or that is an actual UFO β€” we think maybe 5% report it, maybe not even that." (That could help explain Lincoln County's numbers, given that people living in Area 51's backyard are probably more UFO-aware.)

The intrigue: UFO reports spiked when SpaceX's Starlink satellites β€”Β which can look like a "train" streaking across the night sky β€” were first being launched in 2019 and 2020, Stepien says.

  • But that's less the case now, he says, as more people learn what Starlink looks like.

Meanwhile: The Defense Department in 2022 created the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office to research UAPs, underscoring some government leaders' concerns about the potential national security threat they pose.

  • A 2023 Pentagon report found that among 366 UAP cases examined, more than half were balloons, drones or "airborne clutter" β€” but many instances were left unresolved.

The bottom line: Despite rising public acceptance of UFO/UAP chatter, there's still no proof that we're being visited by extraterrestrials.

  • Many of these sightings are likely military activity (especially those near Area 51, which has a storied history of classified aircraft tests), satellites, scientific phenomena, etc.
  • But the truth, as they say, is out there.
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