the bright lights of three hovering UFOS in the night sky

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R.1, R.2, R.4, R.5, R.7, W.3, SL.1, L.4, L.6

Are Those Aliens?

For years, people have seen strange objects in the sky. What exactly are they?

Before You Read: Check out our Background Builder slideshow

 

It was a bright June day in 1947. Pilot Kenneth Arnold was flying toward Mount Rainier in Washington State. A plane was thought to have crashed there. The first person to find it would get a reward.

    Arnold never found the plane. But he did find something else.

    It was something so incredible that it would forever change his life—and American history. 

    It was something that he later believed was not of this Earth.

    That’s right. We’re talking about aliens.

It was a bright June day in 1947. Pilot Kenneth Arnold was flying toward Mount Rainier in Washington State. A plane was thought to have crashed there. The first person to find it would get a reward. 

    Arnold never found the plane. But he did find something else.

    It was something amazing. It would change his life. It would change history.

    It was something that he later believed was not of this Earth.

    That’s right. We’re talking about aliens.

On a sunny June day in 1947, pilot Kenneth Arnold was flying toward Mount Rainier in Washington State. A plane was believed to have crashed there, and a reward was being offered to the first person to find the wreckage. 

    Arnold never located the downed plane, but he did find something else.

    It was something so extraordinary that it would forever change Arnold’s life—and American history.

    It was something that he later believed was not of this Earth.

    That’s right—we’re talking about aliens.

The Mystery 

    Arnold saw nine strange objects in the sky. At first he thought they were birds. But that couldn’t be. The objects had shiny surfaces. Sunlight sparkled off them. Were they planes? That was unlikely. The objects didn’t seem to have pilots. But sometimes they darted and flipped. 

    Even crazier, the objects were traveling at 1,200 miles per hour or more. At that speed, you could cross five football fields in about one second! Arnold knew that nothing flew that fast. He was puzzled. If only he had a camera with him, he thought. 

    After he landed, Arnold told other people what he had seen. On June 25, a newspaper ran a front-page article about Arnold’s story. The article said the flying objects Arnold saw were “saucer-like.” (Saucers are small, round plates.)

    The story was quickly shared by other newspapers. It sparked a frenzy. What had Arnold seen? Could it have been a weapon? Or was it something stranger? Was it aliens

    Americans were obsessed. Within a month, they reported seeing more than 850 unidentified flying objects—or UFOs.

    Arnold saw nine strange objects in the sky. Were they birds? No. They had shiny surfaces. Sunlight sparkled off them. Were they planes? That was unlikely. They didn’t seem to have pilots. But sometimes they darted and flipped.

    Even crazier, the objects were moving at 1,200 miles per hour or more. At that speed, you could cross five football fields in about one second! Arnold knew that nothing flew that fast. He was puzzled. He wished he had a camera with him.

    After he landed, Arnold told other people what he had seen. On June 25, a newspaper ran a front-page story about it. The story said the objects Arnold saw were “saucer-like.” Saucers are small, round plates.

    Other newspapers ran the story too. It sparked a frenzy. What had Arnold seen? Could it have been a weapon? Or was it something stranger? Was it aliens?

    Americans were obsessed. Within a month, they reported seeing more than 850 unidentified flying objects—or UFOs.

    Arnold saw nine strange objects in the sky. At first he thought he was seeing a flock of birds, but he quickly realized that was impossible. The objects had shiny surfaces that sparkled in the sunlight. It also seemed unlikely that they were planes. Although the objects occasionally darted and flipped, they didn’t appear to have pilots.

    What made the whole thing even crazier was that, according to Arnold’s calculations, the objects were traveling at 1,200 miles per hour or faster. At that speed, you could cross five football fields in about one second! Knowing that nothing flew that fast, Arnold was puzzled. If only he had a camera with him, he thought.

    After he landed, Arnold told other people what he had seen. On June 25, a newspaper ran a front-page article about Arnold’s experience. The article said the flying objects Arnold saw were “saucer-like.” (Saucers are small, round plates.)

    The story was quickly shared by other newspapers, and it sparked a frenzy. What had Arnold seen? Could it have been a weapon, or maybe something more unusual? Was it aliens?

    Americans became obsessed. Within a month, they reported seeing more than 850 unidentified flying objects—or UFOs.

UFO Mania

    Soon, people started seeing more and more UFOs. Farmers saw strange lights over their fields. Kids spotted flying saucers high in the air. 

    And then a strange object was found in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Rumors spread that aliens had crashed there. (An official report said that a weather balloon—not a spaceship—had crashed near Roswell.)

    UFO hunting became a national hobby. People formed clubs to discuss UFO reports. Some of the most popular movies and TV shows featured aliens in flying saucers. Sometimes these aliens were sweet. Sometimes they were terrifying. 

    Meanwhile, the mystery remained: What were people seeing? Was there a simple explanation? Or could it really be aliens?

    People saw more and more UFOs. Farmers saw strange lights over their fields. Kids saw flying saucers high in the air.

    And then a strange object was found in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Rumors spread that aliens had crashed there. An official report said that a weather balloon, not a spaceship, had crashed near Roswell.

    UFO hunting became a national hobby. People formed clubs to discuss UFO reports. Movies and TV shows featured aliens in flying saucers. Some of these aliens were sweet. Some were scary.

    Meanwhile, the mystery remained: What were people seeing? Could it be aliens?

    Reports of UFO sightings quickly multiplied. Farmers saw strange lights over their fields, and children spotted flying saucers high in the air.

    And then a mysterious object was found in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. Rumors spread that aliens had crashed there. (An official report stated that a weather balloon—not a spaceship—had crashed near Roswell.)

    UFO hunting became a national hobby, and people formed clubs to discuss UFO reports. Popular movies and television shows featured aliens in flying saucers. Some of these aliens were friendly, while others were terrifying.

    Meanwhile, the mystery remained: What were people seeing in the sky? Was there a simple explanation? Or could it actually be aliens?

Aliens Through Time

World History Archive/Alamy Stock Photo (The War of the Worlds); PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo (Marvin the Martian); Courtesy of Warner Bros. (Dog)

1- 1898
The War of the Worlds is published. It’s a novel about aliens invading Earth that is later made into a radio play. Some listeners think the play is a news report—and that Earth is under attack!


2/3- 1948
Marvin the Martian becomes a popular character in Looney Tunes cartoons. The character often plays the part of the lovable bad guy.

1- 1898
The War of the Worlds is published. It’s a novel about aliens invading Earth that is later made into a radio play. Some listeners think the play is a news report—and that Earth is under attack!


2/3- 1948
Marvin the Martian becomes a popular character in Looney Tunes cartoons. The character often plays the part of the lovable bad guy.

1- 1898
The War of the Worlds is published. It’s a novel about aliens invading Earth that is later made into a radio play. Some listeners think the play is a news report—and that Earth is under attack!


2/3- 1948
Marvin the Martian becomes a popular character in Looney Tunes cartoons. The character often plays the part of the lovable bad guy.

AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo (Spock); AA Film Archive/Alamy Stock Photo (ET); Courtesy Everett Collection (Earth vs. Flying Saucers)

4- 1956
Movies like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers show Americans’ interest in—and fear of—UFOs.


5- 1966
The popular TV show Star Trek starts. People meet characters like Spock, who is half-human and half-alien.


6- 1982
People fall in love with the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It’s about a boy who becomes friends with an alien stuck on Earth. 


7- 2018
The popular video game Among Us comes out. It’s one of many video games that feature aliens—both good and bad.

4- 1956
Movies like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers show Americans’ interest in—and fear of—UFOs.


5- 1966
The popular TV show Star Trek starts. People meet characters like Spock, who is half-human and half-alien.


6- 1982
People fall in love with the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It’s about a boy who becomes friends with an alien stuck on Earth. 


7- 2018
The popular video game Among Us comes out. It’s one of many video games that feature aliens—both good and bad.

4- 1956
Movies like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers show Americans’ interest in—and fear of—UFOs.


5- 1966
The popular TV show Star Trek starts. People meet characters like Spock, who is half-human and half-alien.


6- 1982
People fall in love with the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It’s about a boy who becomes friends with an alien stuck on Earth. 


7- 2018
The popular video game Among Us comes out. It’s one of many video games that feature aliens—both good and bad.

Spy Planes

    As thrilling as that would be, the answer is: probably not. 

    After 1945, the U.S. military began secretly testing many new types of planes. Some could fly without pilots. Some could fly in ways no one had seen before. For example, the A-12 spy plane could fly faster and higher than anything before it. 

    Many of these tests took place near a secret military base called Area 51. It was in a remote part of Nevada. That likely explains why so many UFOs were seen in the Southwest, not far from Area 51.

    The answer is: probably not.

    After 1945, the U.S. military began secretly testing new types of planes. Some could fly without pilots. Some could fly in new ways. For example, the A-12 spy plane could fly faster and higher than anything before it.

    Many of these tests took place near a secret military base called Area 51. It was in a remote part of Nevada. That could be why so many UFOs were seen in the Southwest, not far from Area 51.

    As exciting as that would be, the answer is: probably not.

    After 1945, the U.S. military began secretly testing many new types of planes, some of which could fly without pilots or in ways no one had seen before. The A-12 spy plane, for example, could fly faster and higher than anything before it.

    Many of these tests took place near a secret military base called Area 51, which was in a remote part of Nevada. That likely explains why so many UFO sightings occurred in the Southwest, not far from Area 51.

iStockPhoto/Getty Images (Hole Punch Cloud)

Cloud or Flying Saucer?  
Doesn’t that circle look like a UFO? It’s actually something called a hole punch cloud. It’s created when a plane flies through a super-cold cloud.

UFOs Today

    Today, experts believe that many UFOs were probably test flights for those military spy planes. Yet people continue to spot UFOs all over the world.

    Recently, a group of government officials looked into UFO reports from 2004 to 2021. Overall, 144 UFO sightings were analyzed. Many are puzzling. Some are strangely similar to what Arnold saw back in 1947. 

    For example, Navy pilots saw spinning objects flying 30,000 feet in the air along the East Coast. The objects were seen almost every day from the summer of 2014 to March 2015. They didn’t seem to have engines. How were they flying? Where was their fuel?

    In the end, the officials’ report said that we don’t have enough information to fully understand what every UFO might be. It didn’t say anything about aliens. 

    But it didn’t rule them out either. 

    Today, experts believe that many UFOs were probably test flights for those planes. Yet people still spot UFOs all over the world.

    Recently, a group of government officials looked into UFO reports from 2004 to 2021. They analyzed 144 UFO sightings. Many are puzzling. Some are similar to what Arnold saw in 1947.

    For instance, Navy pilots saw spinning objects 30,000 feet in the air along the East Coast. The objects were seen almost every day from the summer of 2014 to March 2015. They didn’t seem to have engines. How were they flying? Where was their fuel?

    The officials’ report said that we don’t have enough information to know what every UFO might be. It didn’t say anything about aliens.

    But it didn’t rule them out.

    Today, experts believe that many UFOs were probably test flights for those military spy planes. Yet people continue to spot UFOs all over the world.

    Recently, a group of government officials analyzed 144 reports of UFO sightings from 2004 to 2021. Many are deeply puzzling. Some are strangely similar to what Arnold saw back in 1947.

    For example, Navy pilots saw spinning objects flying 30,000 feet in the air along the East Coast. The objects, which were observed almost every day from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, didn’t appear to have engines. How were they flying? Where was their fuel?

    In the end, the officials’ report stated that we don’t have enough information to fully understand what every UFO might be. It didn’t say anything about aliens.

    But it didn’t rule them out either.

MERVYN REES/Alamy Stock Photo (Lockheed A-12); Chris Alan Wilton/Alamy Stock Photo (UFO)

Plane or Flying Saucer?
Spy planes like this Lockheed A-12 were top secret. Look at the plane’s shape. Can you see how it could have been mistaken for a flying saucer when up in the air?

The Mystery Continues

    We may never solve the mystery of what Arnold saw that day in 1947. There is no official explanation.

    Maybe some UFOs are no more than birds or balloons. Maybe they are just tricks our eyes are playing on us.  

    One thing is clear, though. Many of us want to believe in aliens. Four in 10 Americans believe UFOs are extraterrestrial. 

    Every day, astronomers are learning more about the universe. These scientists use powerful telescopes that can see far into space. They’ve sent special robots to explore Mars.

    And each year, scientists discover new planets. Some of them are billions of miles away. No one knows who—or what—we might find on them. So far, no one has spotted life on another planet. But scientists believe it’s out there. It might be discovered in your lifetime.

    Maybe you’ll be the one to find it. 

    We may never know what Arnold saw in 1947. There is no official explanation.

    Some UFOs might just be birds or balloons. Some might be tricks our eyes are playing    on us.  

    One thing is clear, though. Many of us want to believe in aliens. Four in 10 Americans believe UFOs are extraterrestrial.

    Every day, astronomers learn more about the universe. These scientists use telescopes that can see far into space. They’ve sent robots to explore Mars.

    And each year, scientists discover new planets. Some are billions of miles away. No one knows who—or what—we might find on them. So far, no one has found life on another planet. But scientists believe it’s out there. It might be found in your lifetime.

    Maybe you’ll be the one to find it. 

    We may never solve the mystery of what Kenneth Arnold saw that day in 1947. There is no official explanation.

    Maybe some UFOs are simply birds, balloons, or even tricks our eyes are playing on us.  

    One thing that’s perfectly clear, though, is that many people want to believe in aliens. Four in 10 Americans believe UFOs are extraterrestrial.

    Every day, astronomers are learning more about the universe. These scientists use powerful telescopes that can see far into space. They’ve also sent special robots to explore Mars.

    And scientists discover new planets each year, some of them billions of miles away. Who—or what—we might eventually find on them is unknown. Although no one has spotted life on another planet yet, scientists believe it’s out there. It might be discovered in your lifetime.

    Maybe you’ll be the one to find it. 

PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images (Roswell)

Alien Fun 
Many UFO sightings have happened in the Southwest U.S. Today, people visit that part of the country to enjoy restaurants, museums, and gift shops with an alien theme.

ACTIVITY: 
Finding Text Evidence

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You’ve just read “Are Those Aliens?” Now do this activity to help you better understand the article.

Tip: Text evidence means details in a story that support an answer or show that it is true.

What to do: Use text evidence—or details from the article—to answer the questions below. We did the first one for you.