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Extraterrestrial hypothesis is a theory that in extraterrestrial life exists.

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Extraterrestrial hypothesis is the hypothesis that UFOs are best explained as being creatures from other planets occupying physical spacecraft visiting Earth.

Extraterrestrial photos.
Amateur Extraterrestrial photographs from Sheffield, England, 4 March 1962 & Minneapolis, Minnesota, 20 October 1960.

The extraterrestrial hypothesis is supported by some individuals within the scientific community, and many organizations have been set up to actively study UFO sightings and contact reports in relation to extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH). It also has many detractors among the scientific community, and among skeptic groups who consider it to be a Pseudoscience .

Extraterrestrial hypothesis is an important component of UFO Abduction reports and remains one of the central questions of ufology. It has divided scholars for decades.

Etymology of extraterrestrial hypothesis.

The origins of the term "extraterrestrial hypothesis" are not clear; it was used in a publication by French engineer Aimè Michel in 1967 and again by James Harder, while testifying before the Congressional Committee on Science and Astronautics, in July 1968.

In 1969 physicist Edward Condon defined extraterrestrial hypothesis as the "idea that some UFOs may be spacecraft sent to Earth from another civilization, or on a planet associated with a more distant star," while presenting the findings of the much debated Condon Report.

Chronology of extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Although ETH, as a unified and named hypothesis, is a comparatively new concept - one which owes a lot to the saucer sightings of the 1940s-1960s - ETH can trace its origins back to a number of earlier iterations which in themselves draw on science, such as the now discredited Martian canals promoted by astronomer Percival Lowell, popular culture, including the writings of H. G. Wells and fellow science fiction pioneers, and even to the works of figures such as the Swedish philosopher and self proclaimed scientist Emanuel Swedenborg, who promoted a variety of unconventional views that linked other worlds to the afterlife.

The ancestors of extraterrestrial hypothesis.

An early example of speculation over extraterrestrial visitors can be found in the French newspaper La Pays. On June 17, 1864, La Pays published a story about two American geologists who allegedly discovered an alien like creature; a mummified three foot tall hairless humanoid with a trunk-like appendage on its forehead, inside a hollow egg-shaped structure.

A further report can be found in the Missouri Democrat (St. Louis), which, in October 1865, reported on the story of Rocky Mountain trapper James Lumley, who claimed to have discover fragments of rock bearing "curious hieroglyphics" which seemed to form a compartmentalized object; which he believed was being used to transport "an animate being", after investigating a meteor impact near Great Falls, Montana. The newspaper goes on to speculate "Possibly, meteors could be used as a means of conveyance by the inhabitants of other planets, in exploring space".

Premodern extraterrestrial hypothesis.

In 1895, astronomer Percival Lowell expanded on the works of Giovanni Schiaparelli and hypothesized that patterns observed on the surface of the planet Mars were irrigation canals created by an intelligent civilization . However, Lowell and Schiaparelli did not argue that Martians were visiting Earth.

The next few years saw a spike in the reports of "Mystery airships" in the U.S. Several newspapers; including the Washington Times and the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch speculated might they might have originated from Mars".

American anomolist Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1923) also believed that many unexplained phenomena - inexplicable artifacts, mysterious disappearances (and strange appearances), and bizarre lights reported in the sky or in the oceans - could be the result of alien visitation He also commented on the general state of affairs regarding such beliefs. In a letter that was published in the New York Times. Fort wrote, "If it is not the respectable or conventional thing upon this Earth to believe in visitors from other worlds, most of us would watch them a week and declare that they were something else, and likely make things disagreeable for anyone who though otherwise."

Modern extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Modern ETH - specifically the implicit linking of unidentified aircraft and lights in the sky to alien life - took root during the late 1940s and took its current form during the 1950s. As with earlier iterations, it drew on both fringe science and popular culture.

In 1947, Lyman Spitzer, Jr., an associate professor of Astrophysics at Yale University appeared on New Haven, Connecticut's WTIC and speculated that the planet Mars could have been inhabited for millions of years, and that Martians had visited Earth at some point during it history. He also voiced that such visits would likely have gone unnoticed "unless [the Martians] had spent some time in a large city or had landed sufficiently recently to have been photographed, we would have no record of their having been here" he reasoned that "any few men who had seen them would probably not be believed by anyone else".

On June 24, 1947 - the day after Lyman's presentation - at about 3.00 p.m. local time, pilot Kenneth Arnold reports seeing nine unidentified disk-shaped aircraft flying near Mt. Rainier. Though he was impressed by their high speed and quick movements, Arnold did not initially consider the ETH, stating,

"I assumed at the time they were a new formation or a new type of jet, though I was baffled by the fact that they did not have any tails. They passed almost directly in front of me, but at a distance of about 23 miles, which is not very great in the air. I judged their wingspan to be at least 100 feet across. Their sighing did not particularly disturb me at the time, except that I had never seen planes of that type." Kenneth Arnold

It was from a misquote from a June 25 1947 newspaper report on this incident that the term "Flying Saucer" entered widespread use: Arnold said the objects moved as if they were a saucer skipping across water.

According to journalist Edward R. Murrow, the ETH as an explanation for "flying saucers" did not earn widespread attention until about 18 months after Arnold's sighting.

Literature professor Terry Matheson wrote,

"sightings of unidentifiable lights the sky had been taking place for centuries, but only after Kenneth Arnold’s flying saucer sighting on June 24, 1947, near Mt. Rainier, Washington, were they explicitly theorized to be extraterrestrial in origin.".

The results of the first US poll of public UFO perceptions were released by Gallup on August 14 1947 and showed that most people either held no opinion, or believed that there was a mundane explanation for apparent UFOs.

33%: No opinion
29%: An optical illusion
15%: A US secret weapon
10%: A hoax
3%: A "weather forecasting device"
1%: of Soviet origin
9%: "Other explanations" (Including fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, secret commercial aircraft, or related to atomic testing).

The term "flying saucer" was familiar to 94% of the respondents. No option was provided to allow participants to explicitly select "extraterrestrial" or "interplanetary".

In 1948, the U.S. Air Force's Project Sign wrote their Estimate of the Situation, which urged investigation of the possibility that unexplained sightings were alien crafts. The report was rejected by high-ranking officers due to a lack of physical evidence, and its existence was not publicly disclosed until 1956. Later reports concluded that their was either insufficient evidence to link UFOs and ETH, or that UFOs did not warrant investigation.

Public belief in extraterrestrial hypothesis remained low during the early 1950s, even among those reporting UFOs. A poll published in Popular Mechanics magazine, in August 1951, showed that 52% UFO witnesses questioned believed that they had seen a man made aircraft, while only 4% believed that they had seen an alien craft. However, by the late 1950s belief in ETH had increased due to the activities of people such as retired U.S. Marine Corp officer Maj. Donald E. Keyhoe, who campaigned to raise public awareness of the UFO phenomena. By 1957, 25% percent of Americans responded that they either believed, or were willing to believe, in ETH, while 53% responded that they weren't. 22% said that they were uncertain.

During this time, ETH also fragmented into distinct camps, each believing slightly different variations of the hypothesis. The "Contactees" of the early 1950s said that the "space brothers" they met were peaceful and benevolent, but by the mid-1960s, a number of alleged Alien abductions; including that of Betty and Barney Hill, and of the apparent mutilation of cattle cast the ETH in more sinister terms.

Analyzing extraterrestrial hypothesis.

In a 1969 lecture US astrophysics Carl Sagan said,

"The idea of benign or hostile super beings from other planets visiting the earth (is clearly) an emotional idea. There are two sorts of self-deception here: either accepting the idea of extraterrestrial visitation in the face of very meager evidence because we want it to be true; or rejecting such an idea out of hand, in the absence of sufficient evidence, because we don't want it to be true. Each of these extremes is a serious impediment to the study of UFOs."

Similarly, astrophysicist Peter A. Sturrock wrote that for many years,

"discussions of the UFO issue have remained narrowly polarized between advocates and adversaries of a single theory, namely the extraterrestrial hypothesis ... this fixation on the ETH has narrowed and impoverished the debate, precluding an examination of other possible theories for the phenomenon."

Against extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Historically, the scientific community has shown little or no support for the ETH, and has largely followed the hypothesis that reports of UFOs are the result of people misinterpreting common objects or phenomena, or are the work of hoaxers.

This state of opinion was clearly shown when, in 1977, astrophysicist Peter A. Sturrock surveyed the members of the American Astronomical Society. Sturrock asked assembled scientists to assign probabilities to eight possible explanations for UFOs. The response given to Sturrock showed that those surveyed believed that there was only a 3% probability that UFOs were extraterrestrial craft (ETH), a 9% probability that they represented a previously unknown natural phenomena, but a 66% probability that they were the result of witnesses either misinterpreting an ordinary object or phenomena, or witnessing an ordinary object or phenomena that they were unfamiliar with.

Those surveyed also assigned an average probability of 12% to the probability that UFOs being a hoax.

12% Hoax
22% A familiar phenomenon or device
23% An unfamiliar natural phenomenon
21% An unfamiliar terrestrial device
9% An unknown natural phenomenon
3% An alien device
7% Some specifiable other cause
3% Some unspecified other cause

The primary scientific arguments against ETH were summarized by Astronomer and UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek during a presentation at the 1983 MUFON Symposium. During which time he outline 7 key reasons why ETH was not a credible in the eyes of science.

  1. "Failure of Sophisticated Surveillance Systems to Detect Incoming or Outgoing UFOs".
  2. "Gravitational and Atmospheric Considerations".
  3. "Statistical Considerations".
  4. "Elusive, Evasive and Absurd Behavior of UFOs and Their Occupants".
  5. "Isolation of the UFO Phenomenon in Time and Space: The Cheshire cat Effect".
  6. "The Space Unworthiness of UFOs".
  7. "The Problem of Astronomical Distances".

Hynek argued that:

  1. Despite world-wide radar systems and Earth-orbiting satellites, UFOs are alleged to flit in and out of the atmosphere, leaving little to no evidence.
  2. UFO-related creatures are alleged to be overwhelmingly humanoid, and are allegedly able to exist on Earth without much difficulty (often lacking "space suits", despite the fact that extra-solar planets would likely have different atmospheres, biospheres, gravity and other factors, and extraterrestrial life would likely be very different from Earthly life.).
  3. The number of reported UFOs and of purported encounters with UFO-inhabitants outstrips the number of expeditions that an alien civilization (or civilizations) could statistically be expected to mount.
  4. The behavior of extraterrestrials reported during alleged abductions is often inconsistent and irrational.
  5. UFOs are isolated in time and space: like the Cheshire cat, they seem to appear and disappear at will, leaving only vague, ambiguous and mocking evidence of their presence.
  6. Reported UFOs are often far too small to support a crew travelling through space, and their reported flight behavior is often not representative of a craft under intelligent control (erratic flight patterns, sudden course changes).
  7. The distance between planets makes interstellar travel impractical, particularly because of the amount of energy that would be required for interstellar travel using conventional means, (According to a NASA estimate, it would take 7x10^19 joules of energy to send the current space shuttle on a one-way, 50 year, journey to the nearest star, an enormous amount of energy) and because of the level of technology that would be required to circumvent conventional energy/fuel/speed limitations using exotic means (see faster than light travel).

According to Hynek, points 1-6 could be argued, but point 7 represented an insurmountable barrier to the validity of the EHT.

More recently, Professor Stephen Hawking argued that because most UFOs turn out to have prosaic explanations, it was reasonable to presume that the "unidentified" UFOs also had prosaic origins.

For extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Since the inception of ETH in its modern form, the hypothesis has attracted a varying level of support from amongst the scientific community. This support grew during the Cold War and the Space Race, but waned afterwards, leaving extraterrestrial hypothesis to remain fringe area that can largely be divided into two categories.

1) The argument that reports of UFO sightings and abductions represent sufficient evidence to determine that alien crafts have been visiting Earth.

2) The argument that reports of UFO sightings and abductions do not represent sufficient evidence to determine that alien crafts have been visiting Earth, but that they are sufficient to prevent the outright dismissal of ETH as a hypothesis.

Though neither are as widespread today as they were during the 1960s-1970s, the later category remains the most common of the two.

In a 1969 report to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the late American physicist James E. McDonald summarized his reasons for not dismissing ETH:

"we have evidence of some (UFO) phenomena defying ready explanation in terms of present-day science and technology, some phenomena that include enough suggestion of intelligent control ... that it is difficult for me to see any reasonable alternative to the hypothesis that something in the nature of extraterrestrial devices engaged-in something in the nature of surveillance lies at the heart of the UFO problem. That is the hypothesis that my own study of the UFO problem leads me to regard as most probable in terms of my present information. This is, like all scientific hypotheses, a working hypothesis to be accepted or rejected only on the basis of continuing investigation. Present evidence surely does not amount to incontrovertible proof of the extraterrestrial hypothesis. What I find scientifically dismaying is that, while a large body of UFO evidence now seems to point in no other direction than the extraterrestrial hypothesis, the profoundly important implications of that possibility are going unconsidered by the scientific community because this entire problem has been imputed to be little more than a nonsense matter unworthy of serious scientific attention. Those overtones have been generated almost entirely by scientists and others who have done essentially no real investigation of the problem-area in which they express such strong opinions. Science is not supposed to proceed in that manner."

Physicist Bruce S. Maccabee argues that belief in extraterrestrial hypothesis is justifiable, and the reason that scientifically acceptable proof has not yet been provided is because UFOlogy has been relegated to the level of a Pseudoscience by mainstream scientists who have either been unwilling to investigate it, or unwilling to reach credible conclusions based on credible data, because of prejudices in the wider scientific community.

"For nearly 40 years, the science establishment has ignored the UFO problem, relegating it to the domain of 'true believers and mental incompetents' (a.k.a. 'kooks and nuts'). Scientists have participated in a "self-cover-up" by refusing to look at the credible and well reported data." Bruce S. Maccabee.

According to Frank B. Salisbury of Utah State University, in order to prevent science from descending into pseudosciences, some burden must also be borne by those who challenge the ETH.

"Can we eliminate the spaceship hypothesis in any rigorous scientific manner? Logically one might think of two approaches: we must show in each and every instance ever reported that the object was not an extraterrestrial spaceship, or we must show by some sort of scientific logic that it is impossible for extraterrestrial beings to visit us." Frank B. Salisbury.

Missouri ufologist Val Germann argues that earthly level of development is still too limited for us to attempt to use scientific methodologies to disprove ETH, and that the apparent absence of empirical evidence is irrelevant to belief in extraterrestrial hypothesis because humans are not currently qualified to extrapolate anything meaningful from the information that is available to them. In Germann's view, all arguments against ETH, based on our current understanding of science, are pure speculation.

Noteworthy supporters of extraterrestrial hypothesis among the military, scientific and aerospace community have included

  • German rocket scientist Walter Riedel.
  • German-American physicist and rocket expert Hermann Oberth.
  • Belgian physicist Maurice A. Biot.
  • Professor of Engineering James Harder.
  • Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.
  • Astronaut Gordon Cooper.
  • Astronaut Edgar Mitchell.
  • American astronomer Frank Halstead.
  • Admiral Lord Hill-Norton, former Chief of Defense Staff, United Kingdom.
  • Felix Zigel.
  • Commander Robert McLaughlin, former head of the Naval guided missile program at White Sands Proving Grounds.
  • Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding (head of the Royal Air Force during World War II).
  • U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Delmar S. Fahrney, once head of the Navy's guided missile program.
  • Former NASA Aerospace engineer Paul R. Hill.
  • French Astrophysicist Jacques Vallee.
  • Physicist James E. McDonald.
  • Greek scientist Paul Santorini.

NASA and extraterrestrial hypothesis.

NASA frequently fields questions in regard to the ETH and UFOs. As of 2006, its official standpoint was that ETH remains possible because it has yet to be proven otherwise, but that it cannot be regarded as anything other than a hypothesis because of a lack of empirical evidence.

"no one has ever found a single artifact, or any other convincing evidence for such alien visits". David Morrison.
"As far as I know, no claims of UFOs as being alien craft have any validity -- the claims are without substance, and certainly not proved". David Morrison

Despite public interest, NASA considers the study of ETH to be irrelevant to its work because of the number of false leads that a study would provide, and the limited amount of usable scientific data that it would yield.

"That whole subject is really irrelevant to our own human quest to travel to space ... if someone in the previous century saw a film of a 747 flying past, it would not tell them how to build a jet engine, what fuel to use, or what materials to make it out of. Yes, the wings are a clue, but just that, a clue." NASA.

Conspiracy about extraterrestrial hypothesis.

A frequent concept in ufology and popular culture is that the true extent of information about UFOs is being suppressed by some form of conspiracy of silence, or by an official cover up that is acting to conceal information.

In 1968, American engineer James A. Harder argued that significant evidence existed to prove UFOs "beyond reasonable doubt," but that the evidence had been suppressed and largely neglected by scientists and the general public, thus preventing sound conclusions from being reached on the ETH.

"Over the past 20 years a vast amount of evidence has been accumulating that bears on the existence of UFO's. Most of this is little known to the general public or to most scientists. But on the basis of the data and ordinary rules of evidence, as would be applied in civil or criminal courts, the physical reality of UFO's has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt" J A Harder

A survey carried out by Industrial Research magazine in 1971 showed that more Americans believed the government was concealing information about UFOs (76%) than believed in the existence of UFOs (54%), or in ETH itself (32%).

Extraterrestrial hypothesis related pages.

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