The invasion of the flying saucers

"Nine out of ten Americans have heard of the phenomenon," noted statistician George Gallup in August 1947, analyzing the first opinion poll on flying saucers. The first was seen on June 24 by Kenneth Arnold, a firefighting equipment salesman, when he was piloting his plane near Mount Rainier, in Washington state. Thus begins the invasion. That summer thousands are seen in the United States, with a maximum of 150 cases daily on July 6 and 7.

A month and a half after Arnold's sighting, a third of his compatriots have no idea what these objects are; another third leans towards optical illusions, mirages and the imagination; 15% believe that they are secret weapons of their country; one in ten, from fraud; and only 1% fear that they were Soviet weapons. No mention of aliens, although they have been flying over the collective imagination for more than a century and strange things have been seen in the sky for decades.

Illustration of the inhabitants of the Moon made in 1835 from the story told by 'The Sun'. /

Library of Congress

August 1835

The Great Moon Hoax

The New York newspaper 'The Sun' tells between August 25 and 31, 1835 that the astronomer John Herschel has discovered life on the Moon. Thanks to a new telescope, he has seen on the satellite seas, rivers and valleys populated by bison, unicorns, bipedal beavers... Based on research published in a Scottish scientific journal, the serial reaches its climax with the observations of the bat man, who lives happily in a paradise where he has erected temples of "polished sapphire or some resplendent blue stone." After six deliveries, the story ends with the destruction of the telescope in a fire.

Sales of 'The Sun' skyrocket, and its competitors do not hesitate to reproduce the story as it is, citing the Scottish magazine as a source, which does not actually exist. Everything has been an invention of the journalist Richard Adams Locke. A fraud that the newspaper only admits 36 years later, in the reporter's obituary. "Mr. Locke was the author of the Moon hoax, the most successful scientific hoax ever published, which originally appeared in 'The Sun'. The story was told with such minute detail and such a deft use of technical phrases that it was not only accepted as fact by the ordinary reader, but also misled and baffled men of science to an astonishing degree," the newspaper says. on February 18, 1871.

Map of the channels of Mars made by Giovanni Schiaparelli in 1891. /



The canals of Mars

The Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli sees in 1877 a network of canals on Mars. For him, they are natural watercourses. "It is not necessary to suppose here the work of intelligent beings", he wrote in 1893. However, his American colleague Percival Lowell thinks that it is a question of a planetary engineering work to bring water from the poles to the middle latitudes, defends that idea in three books published between 1895 and 1908, and the belief is widespread.

In the midst of canal fever, the Martians star in the first alien invasion in 'The War of the Worlds', a novel by HG Wells published in 1897. And, in the 1950s, ufologists point to Mars as the origin of the saucers . However, when NASA's Mariner 4 probe flew over the planet in 1965, it saw neither alien bases nor canals. As some scientists had pointed out from the beginning, the channels have been the result of the vice of the human mind for finding patterns where there are none.

The mysterious airship that flew over Sacramento in November 1896 /

The San Francisco Call

November 1896

the mysterious aircraft

Fifty years before the arrival of the saucers, a mysterious aircraft – as the press called it – visits the United States between November 1896 and May 1897. It is seen first in California and then in Arkansas, Nebraska, Texas... Some people He talks to his pilots – humans dressed in the style of the time – when they go ashore to fill the pantry. No one knows who is the inventor of a balloon with propellers, spotlights, basket and the like that boasts a flight capacity far superior to that of the airships of that time. The ship disappears from the newspapers as it had appeared, overnight.

Most of the cases are limited to night lights that witnesses and the press reinterpret as an aircraft, as will happen from 1947 with flying saucers. They are surely stars and planets. In addition, there are journalistic inventions and pranksters that release balloons and kites with attached lights. After this wave, strange things continue to be seen from time to time in the skies of Europe and America.

"Will Marconi succeed in his listening to Mars?" asked the American press in 1922 /


August 1924

Listening to the Martians

Radio operators of the US War Department participate on August 23 and 24, 1924 in a monitoring of Martian messages. It is promoted by David Todd, an astronomer at Amherst University, coinciding with a few days when the Earth and Mars are very close. The scientist, who had worked at the Navy Observatory, asks the military to keep the radio silent. Washington does not agree, although it does collaborate in the operation. It is a failure. Our neighbors show no signs of life.

It's not the first time it's been tried. Radio pioneers like Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi had already done it. The first believed in 1899 to have picked up signals from Mars in his Colorado Springs laboratory. Today it is thought that it could have been an emission from his rival and even a natural one from Jupiter. Marconi announced in 1919 that he had listened to the Martians, but later retracted, suspecting that the message was broadcasts by other radio experimenters.

Frame from the film version of 'The War of the Worlds' from 1953 by Byron Haskjn.

October 1938

Mars attacks Earth

Tens of thousands of Americans experience a Martian attack on October 30, 1938, during the broadcast of a radio version of 'The War of the Worlds' staged by OrsonWelles and the Mercury Theatre. Formatted as a variety show interrupted by connections from the frontlines of the first interplanetary war, the radio drama session, which has been billed as such, confuses CBS listeners who connect late and those who don't know It happened to check what other stations have. There are those who see the flames of the battlefield, smell the gas and hear the noise of the shots.

The terror caused by 'The War of the Worlds' is magnified by a press that thus presents the nascent and competing radio station as a threat. Subsequently, the idea is reinforced by a study by the sociologist Hadley Cantril, from Princeton University, based on only 135 interviews. "The extent of the panic, as described by Cantril, was greatly exaggerated," the sociologist Robert Bartholomew stated in 1998, In any case, Orson Welles' radio broadcast shows that, encouraged by the media, people can see things that are not there.

Form of the 'flying saucers' seen by Kenneth Arnold, according to a pamphlet published by himself.. /


June 24, 1947

The flying saucers arrive

When Kenneth Arnold tells reporters from the 'East Oregonian' about his sighting, he tells them of a formation of boomerang-shaped objects that "fly erratically, like a saucer if you throw it over water." The story ends on the front page: a businessman has seen "nine saucer-shaped aircraft flying in formation, very bright - as if they were made of nickel - and at immense speed." It is not known who confuses the mode of flight with the shape of objects, but the AP agency spreads the news to the whole world. From that summer on, visions of saucers, and not boomerangs, follow one another.

The Pentagon fears that they are enemy devices, something that it rules out in 1953. And there are very crazy journalistic inventions. In one, for example, it is pointed out that they are inventions of wise Nazi refugees in Francoist Spain. The belief in extraterrestrial origin is so minority that in its first two appearances in the cinema – in February 1949 and January 1950 – the saucers are the creations of human scientists. Experts who have studied Arnold's case believe that what he saw was a flock of pelicans.

The alien Klaatu steps out of his gleaming flying saucer, landed in front of the White House, in the movie 'Ultimatum on Earth' (1951).


They are alien ships

The principles of the UFO creed are established in 1950 by Donald Keyhoe, former Marine aviator and author of adventure stories and science fiction. In his book 'The flying saucers are real', he concludes after eight months of "intensive research" that beings from other planets have been observing Earth for "at least two centuries"; whereas such surveillance has been intensified following the atomic bomb explosions of 1945; and the US government knows it and hides it from the population. A report in 'True' magazine and the half million copies of the book that are sold put the aliens at the controls of the saucers.

The belief is spreading fast, which is why, for the filming of 'Earth Last', filmmaker Robert Wise replaced Klaatu's original ovoid space-time ship with a saucer. No one has seen a crew member of one of those ships when in September 1951 the alien played by Michael Rennie lands in Washington and warns humanity to stop using nuclear weapons or face the wrath of the Galactic Confederation. A year later, already in the real world, George Adamski, a cook at a MontePalomar hamburger restaurant, meets Orthon, an attractive Venusian in the California desert, who conveys to him the concern of our neighbors about our nuclear weapons. Although Adamski and his imitators will be repudiated by the most serious ufology, with Orthon the extraterrestrials are already here and in the following decades they will meet more humans, kidnap others and even participate in assassinations.

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