FLORIDA — At least once or so a decade, a story about a new UFO sighting (or newly released documents about an old one) pops up on the mainstream media’s radar. When that happens, it always seems to instantly reignite the popular culture’s interest in unexplained aerial phenomena.

Last year, the U.S. Navy acknowledged that the objects seen in three widely leaked and ultimately declassified videos were, in fact, unidentified flying objects, in the most general sense of the term. (I.e., nobody in the military is saying they were spaceships piloted by beings from another planet.) The story was picked up by most major news outlets, and once again captured the imagination of those Americans not too skeptical to consider at least the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

What You Need To Know

  • Following a Navy disclosure, American interest in UFOs is once again high

  • California leads the U.S. in reported sightings, followed by Florida

  • The National UFO Reporting Center lets citizens report their own experiences

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to make government UFO data public

That renewed curiosity has continued. In June of this year, the Senate Intelligence Committee—chaired by Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio—included a provision in its annual authorization bill requiring various military and intelligence agencies to compile a detailed analysis of all of the other data on unexplained aerial phenomena. The analysis would be declassified and available to the public and must be completed within 180 days of the bill’s passage.

While the ostensible reason for the provision is defense against a potential threat to the U.S., its mere existence serves as evidence of the public’s continued interest.

Not everyone in the UFO-watching community is excited about the subject’s current pop-cultural hype and the public’s cycling infatuation, however.

“Coverage is trendy. That’s one of the problems we have,” says Peter Davenport, director of the National UFO Reporting Center. “A lot of UFOlogists are very serious people indeed, doing serious work, and we only get covered if there’s a trend in [the culture].”

Davenport, a former candidate for both Washington state legislature and U.S. House of Representatives who holds master’s degrees in biology and finance, has directed the NUFORC since 1994. The reason he became interested in UFOs is simple enough, and perhaps to be expected.

“Well, I saw one when I was a kid,” he says.

According to Davenport, hundreds, “if not thousands” of people witnessed the same incident, which took place while he and members of his family were at a drive-in theater in St. Louis.

“We were watching the movie, and a disturbance started brewing in the theater area,” he says. “We didn’t know what it was, then there were people walking in front of our car, looking up to the right, to the east of us.

“There was an amazingly bright fire engine red object that looked something like an English rugby ball. It appeared to be almost motionless, then shot straight up, and then down behind [a building]. All of that happened in five or six seconds.”

Since then, Davenport claims, he’s sighted other objects that he’s “reasonably certain were not made on this planet."


In 1996, NUFORC added an online form so citizens could report their own sightings on its website. Since then, the site has racked up more than 90,000 reported sightings, nearly all of them from North America. These reports are publicly viewable and include descriptions that run the gamut from “a series of bright spheres moved slowly, one-by-one, in a southerly direction, away from a stationary sphere” (Gloucester, Massachusetts, 7/8/18) to “White light circling a star” (Pearland, Texas, 8/14/20).

California and Florida are the U.S. states that boast far and away the highest numbers of reported sightings, with 10,015 and 5,602, respectively. (Try not to be shocked that Florida is in the top two.) Given that both states are known for a lot of aerodynamic and space exploration research, one might assume that many of these sightings might in fact be cases of mistaken identity, as when the satellites from SpaceX’s recently deployed Starlink broadband satellites are visible to the naked eye.


“People report everything as UFOs, but I doubt that theory is correct,” Davenport says. “I can’t prove it, of course. The population, weather conditions, the fact that people are outdoors quite often [in those states]—there are many, many variables."