Are Aliens Visiting Earth?

(Part 1 of 2 Parts)

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 94, 2004 January)


Many people claim to have seen UFOs and believe what they have perceived is in fact an alien spacecraft. Moreover, others claim they have been taken aboard these vehicles, and subjected to medical examinations, the memory of which, although repressed by supposedly superior technology, can be recalled under hypnosis.

In this article I shall examine these claims and attempt to determine if there is any substance to them. However, before I begin, a few preliminary comments need to be made.

Our sun is an average and insignificant star in the Milky Way galaxy which contains about 100,000 million stars. Moreover, our galaxy is just one of the 1,000 million galaxies that are estimated to comprise the universe. This figure is a conservative estimate, and if it is reasonably close to the true number, then the cosmos contains about 100 trillion stars, many of which may have solar systems similar to our own.

"The recent discovery of one Jupiter-sized and two larger planets orbiting a nearby sunlike star [Upsilon Andromedae, c. 44 light-years from Earth] suggests to astronomers that planetary systems similar to ours might be ubiquitous throughout the Milky Way Galaxy." (R. Naeye: Three Big Planets Orbit Nearby Star, page 27 in Astronomy, Vol. 27, No. 7)

In view of this possibility it would be surprising indeed, if out of this vast array of worlds, ours was the only one upon which intelligent life has evolved.

The Drake Equation (formulated by the astronomer Frank Drake) was developed in an attempt to calculate the number of civilisations (N) that might exist in our galaxy with whom we can communicate. The formula is as follows:

N= R* x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

Where R* = the annual rate of star formation in our galaxy;

fp = the fraction of stars that will develop solar systems;

ne = the number of planets that will have conditions suitable for the development of life;

fl = the probability that life will develop on such planets;

fi = the probability that intelligent life will evolve;

fc = the probability that these beings will develop a technological civilisation capable of interstellar communication;

and L = the number of years that a civilisation would spend attempting to communicate with others.

Various scientists have assigned values to the components of the Drake Equation, and their calculations are shown in Table 1.

Table 1
Estimates for N
Shlovskii & Sagan (1966)
Hart (1980)
Rood & Trefil (1982)
> 108
25 x 106

In my opinion there probably is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. However, whether these admittedly hypothetical beings are visiting Earth, and whether we would be aware of them if they were is another matter, one that I shall now address.

Exploration Protocols

For the sake of argument, I will assume that aliens are sending manned ships to Earth rather than the more sensible option of unmanned space probes that could be mass produced, and would not involve loss of life should some accident befall them. I will now outline how aliens might go about exploring our world, and thereby expose the weakness of the ideas that are found in pro-UFO and alien abduction literature. NOTE: I am assuming that intelligent extraterrestrials would have similar psychologies to our own. For example, that caution (or the instinct for self preservation) is a common attribute of all life in the universe. However, aliens may have totally alien minds, and may behave in ways that appear illogical by our standards.

Would aliens fly over our world at an altitude low enough to be seen? Would they kidnap humans and subject them to bizarre experiments? Would they attempt to pass on the wisdom of their civilisation, by using as a spokesperson, an average citizen who possesses neither scientific qualifications nor position of influence in our government? The answer to all these questions is no.

They would not fly over our cities at an altitude low enough for their ship to be seen. Firstly, there is no need to, their ship would be equipped with an array of sensors that are just as, if not more sensitive, than those of our most advanced spy satellites.

Secondly, they probably have ample evidence from our television transmissions that humans possess a distressing propensity for violence and may attempt to attack their ship should it be seen. Although our weapons are probably crude by their standards, they might damage the vessel, and I think it is reasonable to assume they would have no desire to place their lives in unnecessary danger, however minimal it might be. Thirdly, the psychologist (or equivalent) of the expedition may correctly deduce that our behaviour, which is one of the things they probably wish to study, may be affected if we are aware of their presence.

If they did decide to conduct a low-level mission, then in my opinion they would do so on a cloudy moonless night. Their ship would not be seen, heard or detected on radar because, more than likely, it would be equipped with advanced stealth technology. Naturally, one of our astronomers might detect the ship by occultation, that is when the craft blocks out the light of a celestial body by passing across it. However, this ship is very small when compared to the vastness of Space and therefore the chances of being sighted and correctly identified are minimal.

If they were to land on our world then they would probably choose a remote and uninha-bited site such as an isolated pacific island or wilderness area. They would not kidnap suburbanites and subject them to medical examinations because there is a good chance they are going to be seen. Their mother ship is probably immense (possibly hidden behind the dark side of our moon) and even their scout craft would probably be several hundred metres in length. Needless to say, at close range these are not inconspicuous machines.

It seems likely they would explore the biosphere of our world. However, they would probably do so by dropping a variety of microprobes in wilderness areas. These probes may be nanomachines -- microscopic devices that can link like the cells in a living body and form specialised instruments capable of analysing all aspects of Earth's fauna and flora. The data they gather will be transmitted back to their ship. Upon completion of the mission they would probably order the probes to disassemble and the components to bury themselves in the soil where decomposition will render them unrecognisable.

If they did decide to abduct humans they would minimise the risks of being seen by targeting isolated individuals in wilderness areas, such as an African Bushman in the Kalahari Desert. The subjects they are going to examine would have no repressed memories; as a matter of fact they would have no memories of the incident at all. One of their probes (possibly disguised as an insect) would render the person unconscious by injecting an anaesthetic. This would be done to prevent the person being traumatised by the experience of being kidnapped, and subjected against their will to medical procedures.

Even if the subjects were conscious during these procedures, they would not be able to see the alien's features or any part of their bodies -- the reason, since remote controlled robots in a biohazard isolation chamber would carry out all procedures. This precaution is essential to prevent Earth's microorganisms, to which their immune systems may have no defence, from contaminating their ship, and their own alien microorganisms from contaminating our world.

Any procedures they performed would not leave any marks on their subject's bodies because they would have an extensive range of non-invasive scanners that can provide a thorough analysis of physiological processes. They could obtain tissue samples by swabbing the inside of their subjects' mouths, and the cells obtained from this procedure could then be subjected to genetic analysis.

Some people claim to have had sexual relations with aliens. Moreover, some also claim that these encounters are breeding experiments designed to improve the species, either alien or human. Well, I would like to take the opportunity to disabuse believers of this fantasy. Firstly, there is about as much chance of a successful mating between human and alien as there is of an earth-woman falling pregnant to a marigold. The reason -- their genes are completely different from those of a human because they are the products of an entirely alien evolutionary lineage. Secondly, the sexual act would probably be impossible as their reproductive organs are, more than likely, going to be incompatible with those of a human being.

Finally, if they do attempt to communicate with us they will do so through radio transmissions, rather than face-to-face, because this is the safest method available. The major obstacle is the language barrier -- they can probably gain some knowledge of our language by monitoring our television transmissions. However, as many points will remain obscure some other method of communication will be required that is intelligible to both our species. Their linguists have probably devised mathematical languages, and these would be broadcast to us in the hope that we would be able to decipher them. Please note that crop circles are not a suitable medium for interstellar communication as their information content is ambiguous. Do you really think that members of an advanced civilisation would travel immense distances just to vandalise a farmer's wheat field with meaningless graffiti?

Flying Saucers: Science Fact or Science Fiction?

After having outlined how aliens might explore our world, I shall now address the following question: Are UFOs evidence of extraterrestrial visitations?

Before I begin to examine these phenomena, I would like to point out that the word "UFO" is an acronym for Unidentified Flying Object, it does not stand for Alien Spacecraft. Moreover, there are many prosaic things that can cause mysterious phenomena:

"Astronomical and atmospheric effects responsible for many UFO sightings include meteors, satellite reentries, refraction and reflection effects of sunlight, mirages and ball lightning...aircraft, weather balloons, of birds...purely imaginary effects caused by after-images in the eye of bright fights, imaginary motions of the stars in the sky... A five-year research programme with ultra-sensitive radars at Wallops Island, Virginia, revealed three causes [of UFOs appearing on radar]: insects or birds, sudden refractive changes in the atmosphere, and distant objects brought into view by so-called anomalous propagation." (I. Ridpath: Signs of Life, pages 170-171).

This list is only a very small sample of natural causes and human artefacts that have generated UFO reports, and clearly shows that people are far from perfect when it comes to accurately identifying things. For example, when the Russian Zond IV satellite broke up in Earth's atmosphere over the USA (3 March 1968) it produced hundreds of UFO reports, some of which are renown for their inaccuracy:

"Of significance is the tremendous variance of the reports. People are simply not good observers or good reporters of what they see... Our friend Marie [one of the witnesses] had an impeccable reputation. She, John, and the mayor, were certainly not making things up [according to their report they saw a metallic cigarshaped object with square windows flying at an altitude of between 2000 to 5000 feet]... This story carries its own warning. No matter how reliable the observer may seem to be, his estimates of size, shape, appearance, brightness, and other physical characteristics are often very far from the truth." (D.H. Menzel: UFO's The Modern Myth, page 161 in UFO's, a Scientific Debate).

The object these people saw was at least 75 miles above the Earths surface, and the "windows" were optical illusions (Zond IV had no windows) probably caused by irregularities in luminescence.

People who believe that aliens are visiting Earth, will probably offer as evidence those UFO sightings that have not been explained to date by natural phenomena or man made objects, and then claim that these cases are genuine sightings of alien spacecraft.

However, just because a particular sighting can't be identified as a known phenomena, doesn't mean people can leap to the conclusion that what has been seen is the product of an extraterrestrial civilisation. Indeed, there may be more prosaic explanations such as an unknown natural phenomenon, classified military aircraft, or an elaborate hoax. Until the nature of the sighting can be substantiated beyond all doubt, it is best to suspend judgement as to what it was.

The remaining question that needs to be addressed is why some people interpret various phenomena as alien spacecraft. I think part of the answer lies in the fact that we live in a technological society. In the past strange phenomena were considered to be "signs of heaven" -- comets, for example, were considered harbingers of divine wrath. However, with the advance of knowledge the majority of people have, to a large extent, abandoned these explanations, and new ideas more in keeping with the paradigms of our age have taken their place.

The new ideas that I am referring to are found in science fiction, a genre that appears to have played a role in the formation of the "aliens are visiting Earth" hypothesis. I shall now proceed to outline how this form of literature may have influenced public opinion in this regard.

One of the most well known novels that deal with alien visitations is H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (1898), in which hostile Martians invade Earth, and are eventually killed by terrestrial bacteria to which their bodies have no defence. Stories of journeys to other worlds and encounters with aliens began to appear with increasing frequency in the Victorian era, a time of expanding scientific knowledge and technological progress. However, it was not until Hugo Gemsback (1884 - 1967) launched Amazing Stories, the world's first science fiction magazine in April 1926, that the ideas expounded in this genre began to have a widespread influence on modern culture.

In the stories of these magazines and the artwork used to illustrate them can be seen the seeds from which flying saucer and alien abduction beliefs could spring. For example, an aircraft that is remarkably similar to a flying saucer appears on the front cover of the April 1930 edition of Air Wonder Stories. Additional examples of UFOs can be seen on the cover of the August 1929 edition of the same magazine -- in this case two cigar shaped craft. Other cigar shaped craft appear on the cover of the February 1939 edition of Marvel Science Stories, and a globular vessel graces the cover of the June 1929 edition of Science Wonder Stories.

All of these illustrations appeared well before the flying saucer craze of the late 1940s, and have been cited to show that ideas were circulating in popular literature from which the belief that aliens are visiting earth could develop, fuelled as it was by uncritical media coverage. In addition, people in the late 1940s were witnessing the dawn of the space age -- science fiction was starting to become science fact, and this may have been an additional factor that lent plausibility to these beliefs.

In addition to those factors I have already outlined, is the search for salvation - in the past mankind has looked to the heavens for divine aid in times of crises, however, for many people today religion is no longer credible. This is because its formal dogmas have become outmoded -- they reflect a prescientific view of the world that is largely incompatible with contemporary modes of thought.

Therefore, rather than appealing to supernatural beings in a metaphysical heaven, many peo-ple place their faith in superior extraterrestrial beings from the heavens - beings who will deliver us from the threat of nuclear war, environmental degradation and other pressing problems by sharing their advanced technology and philosophy, thus establishing a utopian society or heaven on earth. The desire for salvation still exists; its symbols have merely undergone a transformation.

(Part 2  next)


Are Aliens
Visiting Earth?

(Part 2)

Kirk Straughen

Sex Fiends From Mars?

Abduction accounts tend to sound like the plot from a 'B' grade science fiction movie, hence the title of this section of my article. Although I have outlined the reasons why aliens would probably not act in the manner described by most believers, we are still left with the following question -- if these people are not being kidnapped by aliens, then what has happened to them?

I think the nature of these experiences indicates that they are a form of hallucination. However, before exploring this possibility I shall now proceed to list some common features they possess:

These events usually occur in the early hours of the morning, and the person may experience a shift in consciousness. The abduction experience usually continues as follows:

The aliens that the person encounters during these experiences often possess the following characteristics:

The medical procedures that the abductee is subjected to commonly involve the reproductive system:

As I have already pointed out, many of these experiences occur in the early hours of the morning, a time when people's minds are often in a state midway between sleep and wakefulness. The sensations of floating and paralysis, and the times at which they occur, are symptoms associated with a well-known phenomenon called "sleep paralysis" -- an event often accompanied by auditory and visual hallucinations, and sexual imagery.

The temporal lobes -- those parts of the brain that appear to be involved with consciousness and dreaming -- may play a part in the production of these experiences, for it has been found that people suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy can experience a similar range of feelings to those of abductees: hallucinations of strange creatures, sensations of unseen entities, floating sensations, sexual imagery, anxiety, and a sense of lost time.

People do not have to be suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy to experience vivid hallucinations that are difficult to distinguish from reality. Indeed, the idea that strange beings can assault the sleeper is as old as civilisation -- the Assyrians had their Lili, a demonic nympho-maniac who roamed the night in search of men; the Hebrews were fearful of the demon Lilith who assumed the form of a beautiful woman and was especially active at night; and the medieval Christians were obsessed with incubi and succubi.

It seems likely that hallucinations associated with the phenomena of sleep paralysis were, in prescientific societies, attributed to demonic beings. However, the advance of science and technology has eroded these beliefs to a large degree with the result that some people now believe these experiences are extraterrestrial in nature.

The idea that aliens wish to abduct humans for experimental or sexual purposes can be traced to the science fiction magazines of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. For example, the Winter 1933 cover of Captain Future depicts a young woman in the grip of an alien creature; an interior illustration of the October 1938 issue of Marvel shows another alien tearing the clothes off a woman; the cover of the December 1939 issue of Science Fiction depicts a woman being carried off by a robotic alien; and the cover of the July 1952 issue of Planet Stories, a publication renown for its monster threatens maiden cliches, shows another woman in the clutches of an alien. These illustrations are more likely to be representative of the fantasies of human beings rather than the behaviour of intelligent aliens.

In my opinion, it seems likely that science fiction has played a part in the formation of alien abduction beliefs, especially when aliens similar to those reported by abductees appear in science fiction stories and illustrations.

Another factor that casts doubt on the reality of these experiences is the fact that many of them have been recalled under hypnosis -- an unreliable method at best:

"The American Medical Association calls memories surfacing under hypnosis less reliable than those recalled without it. A standard medical school text (Harold I. Kaplan, Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 1989) warns of 'a high likelihood that the beliefs of the hypnotist will be communicated to the patient and incorporated into what the patient believes to be memories, often with strong conviction.' So the fact that, when hypnotised, people sometimes relate alien abduction stories carries little weight. There's a danger that subjects are -- at least on some matters -- so eager to please the hypnotist that they sometimes respond to subtle clues of which even the hypnotist is unaware." (C. Sagan: The Deamon-Haunted World, page 130-131).

Some believers will probably argue that many abductees are not science fiction fans, and are therefore unlikely to have been influenced by this genre. However, given the fact that our culture has been permeated by these stories and science fiction films, from the 1930's Flash Gordon matinees to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it is possible that the images and ideas of this genre could have been subconsciously absorbed by the person and incorporated into their dream imagery by a mechanism similar to cryptomnesia -- a phenomena where individuals recall information they were unaware of having perceived.

The Light-Speed Barrier

If ETI (extraterrestrial intelligence) exists, could these beings visit Earth? In my opinion, the deciding factors will be a combination of technology and Nature's laws. Unfortunately, the warp and FTL (faster than light) propulsion systems of science fiction will remain just that -- editors allow such liberties, but nature does not because only entities without mass, such as light, can travel at light speed (300,000 km per second) and nothing can exceed this limit. Moreover, according to Einstein's special theory of relativity, as a spacecraft accelerates towards light-speed its mass increases, and this places a limit on acceleration -- the faster you go, the more mass you gain, the more fuel you need.

Fortunately, there are propulsion systems that do not contravene the laws of physics and may prove suitable for interstellar travel. For example, the British Interplanetary Society's Project Daedalus consists of detailed plans for the construction of a two-stage nuclear fusion rocket. In theory, the Daedalus could achieve an acceleration of 13 psol (13% light-speed) in about four years, and then 'coast' the remaining distance to its destination -- Barnard's star, which is six light-years from Earth. However, at 13 psol the voyage will take about 50 years, and this is to a relatively nearby star.

Now, there are 23 star systems within a 15 light-year radius of our sun, and it seems to me that if ETI exists within this sphere then it may be possible for them to visit Earth. However, in order to visit our world they will probably need to construct what are known as 'space arks' -- huge starships with self-sustaining biospheres upon which generations of crew members would live and die as the ship makes its slow way between the stars. Given that there will never be a time when we will have interstellar spaceliners conveying passengers between distant solar systems in a matter of months, it is clear that all the numerous UFO sightings reported every year can't be attributed to alien spacecraft.


We have no evidence that an alien civilisation exists in close proximity to our solar system and is sending either manned or unmanned spacecraft to Earth. However, even if they were, they may have reasons for concealing themselves, and if this is so it seems unlikely we would be aware of their presence unless they chose to communicate with us in an unambiguous manner. Needless to say, this has not happened to date, and until it does we can only say that the evidence for the existence of flying saucers and alien abductions (both of which appear to be based more on science fiction than fact) is, at best, unconvincing.


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