Most observations of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena typically happen in the American West, where the closeness to public lands, dark skies, and military bases provides increased chances of witnessing unusual objects in the sky.

“This [Tic Tac-shaped object that] had just traveled 60 miles in…less than a minute, was far superior in performance to my brand-new F/A-18F and did not operate with any of the known aerodynamic principles that we expect for objects that fly in our atmosphere.”

In July of 2023, a retired commander in the U.S. Navy David Fravor testified to the House Oversight Committee about a mysterious, Tic Tac-shaped object that he and three others observed over the Pacific Ocean in 2004. The congressional hearings riveted the world by bringing Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) out of the “alien truther” realm and into the mainstream.

As sensor technology has advanced and personal aircraft-use has skyrocketed, our ability to explain strange events has become harder to resolve. The U.S. Department of Defense has increasingly taken UAP, formerly known as Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), as a serious threat to national security.

A new study led by University of Utah geographers attempts to understand if local environmental factors increase or decrease the number of sighting reports. The authors used data from the National UFO Research Center, and included approximately 98,000 total sighting reports over a 20-year period, from 2001 to 2020. For each county in the contiguous U.S., the researchers analyzed two conditions: Sky view potential, which refers to the area’s light pollution, cloud cover, and tree canopy cover; and the potential for objects to be present in the sky, meaning the proximity to airports and military installations.

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