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A metallic flying aircraft with a disk-shaped body, surrounded by an eerie glowing light moves so quickly across the night sky that if you blink, you just might miss it. Unidentified flying objects have played an iconic part in popular culture since the 1950s, especially in science fiction, and have become synonymous with the idea of extraterrestrial life.
According to a 2012 National Geographic survey, about 36 percent of Americans believe that UFOs are real and 11 percent claim to have seen one themselves. If one hasn’t seen a UFO, 20 percent of Americans know someone who has allegedly seen one in their lifetime.
One of the earliest and most notable works to include this idea is The War of the Worlds, written by H.G. Wells in 1898. Its later 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles led to a widespread panic by listeners, some who truly believed that the events were real and that Earth was being invaded by aliens. Years later, some are still skeptical about whether or not aliens exist, while others believe it wholeheartedly.
The term “flying saucer” was first coined in the late 1940s when a chain of nine UFOs was seen flying across the sky by a pilot named Kenneth Arnold. Reaching nationwide coverage, this became the first post-war UFO sighting in the United States, leading to numerous more within the ensuing weeks.
Joshua Colwell, a professor at UCF’s physics department, has studied planetary sciences and astronomy for years. He finds the topic fascinating but says there is a big difference between the existence of UFOs and extraterrestrial life.
“I believe that [it’s] very likely that there is life elsewhere in the universe,” he said. “However, I do not believe that there is any evidence to support a claim that any of that life has ever come to this planet.”
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