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Pandemic or Elon Musk? Researchers look into rising UFO sightings

At the start of the pandemic, when many people found themselves spending far more time at home or outdoors than usual, a handful of researchers were curious about the effects of public health measures on a scientific area of niche: UFO sightings.

Would more people report seeing UFOs during their time at home? The answer, according to a new research paper published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration last month, is yes — and no.

UFO reports have increased in 2020, but according to researchers, the cause does not appear to be the pandemic.

Instead, the culprit – or at least an aggravating factor – could be a company owned by Elon Musk.

The articles discuss how researchers believed that due to lockdowns and physical distancing measures, as well as an increase in anxiety among populations, there may have been an increase in UFO sightings.

To test their hypothesis, they looked at data from the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC) and the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), which collate UFO reports across the United States, and looked at data from 2018 to 2020. to compare data from before and during the pandemic.

They also looked at Google’s Community Mobility Reports to see the general level of population mobility during these times, as well as levels of COVID-19 cases and deaths to create a picture of when the anxiety and stress may have been higher among communities.

In 2020, there was a marked increase: approximately 600 additional reports were recorded in each database compared to pre-pandemic levels.

But where and when those reports came from didn’t seem to correlate with mobility records or with levels of COVID-19.

With no clear link to the increased reports, researchers searched for aggravating factors.

What they found was Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Beginning in late 2019, SpaceX launched regular launches of Starlink satellites, which provide satellite internet coverage to 50 countries.

These launches include up to 60 satellites at once, greatly increasing the number of small flying objects in the sky.

The researchers found that there was a correlation between the timing of Starlink launches and increased UFO sightings, meaning that many UFO sightings in 2020 may have been of terrestrial origin rather than extraterrestrial.

When researchers removed sightings that appeared to be related to Starlink launches, they actually observed a drop in overall sightings reported to NUFORC in 2020 compared to pre-pandemic years.

Although the result is different from what the researchers had assumed, it is still clear that UFO sightings often have human explanations.

“This study sheds light on the potential impact of social factors on UFO reports,” Mark Rodeghier, scientific director of the Center for UFO Studies, said in a press release.

Starlink has launched more than 3,000 satellites so far, which has worried astronomers for years.

Being mistaken for UFOs isn’t the only way they impact our view of the night sky. Satellites increasingly show up as thin streaks in deep-space photos, cutting into telescope views as our atmosphere becomes increasingly cluttered.

A 2022 study reported that the Starlink satellites, which currently make up the largest constellation in low Earth orbit, created 5,301 sequences on archival images scientists had taken of the night sky. Satellites interfere the most with twilight observations, which is the best time to identify asteroids appearing near the sun. According to the study, only 0.5% of space images taken at dusk were affected by satellite distortion in 2019, but 20% were affected by the end of the study period.

Starlink aims to hit 10,000 satellites by 2027. Whether or not that correlates with 10,000 more UFO sightings along the way remains to be seen.

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