As with any real phenomenon, UFO/UAP (Unexplained Aerial Phenomena, which we use interchangeably with UFO) - whatever they might be - can be studied scientifically so long as we have the proper equipment to measure their physical characteristics. Broadly speaking, it is most important to measure the type and intensity of radiation being emitted by a UAP. This radiation may be detected directly from the phenomenon, as with the light from a light bulb, or it may be detected from its effect on its surroundings, such as ionization of the surrounding atmosphere by the radiated energy.

Radiation is typically emitted from most sources in a broad band and can range from the very energetic, short wavelength (x-rays or gamma rays), to the less energetic, long wavelength (microwaves or radio waves). In our day-to-day life, we are familiar with radiation in the visible spectrum, but radiation can be emitted over a wide range of wavelengths, all of which provide information about the source. Radiation can often be used to deduce many characteristics of the source and to calculate its rate of energy emission (if its distance is known reasonably well).

Spectroscopy is the study of radiation intensity as a function of wavelength. A rainbow after a rainstorm is an example of natural spectroscopy, with the Sun's visible light split up into its component wavelengths, appearing as bands of color (although the rainbow is actually a smooth spectrum, not distinct bands).

Our primary study of a UAP spectrum will be in visible light, captured with cameras and an attached spectrograph. We have produced two videos to explain the principles of spectroscopy and what can be learned about a UAP from its spectrum.

We will also use other instruments to measure radiation in the longer wavelength range and its associated spectrum. These provide complements to the spectrum from visible light.

Other physical characteristics are potentially important as well, such as any magnetic field associated with a UAP. Magnetic fields can be generated by either moving electric charges or by elementary particles that have a synchronized spin in a material (as in a simple magnet). A sufficiently strong magnetic field requires a large energy source, and detecting a magnetic field during a UFO event would allow us to estimate the source energy.

All energy comes in the form of particles, and in particular, the energy we have reviewed above is carried by photons. Other forms of energy are associated with various types of elementary particles, including alpha and beta radiation. For example, an alpha particle consists of two protons and two neutrons, bound together. These particles are emitted through radioactive decay, among other potential mechanisms, and when we say that something is 'radioactive' we mean that it is emitting these particles, which can at high enough intensity be quite dangerous (as near a nuclear reactor). Although we don't expect that being near a UFO is that hazardous (though there have been many reports of physiological effects on people from UFOs), it is useful to measure such radiation, which can be done with a Geiger counter. Standard Geiger counters can also measure gamma radiation, which is not a separate type of particle, but simply a very high energy photon.

Another potential effect of a UAP is to cause a static charge to build up on surfaces. This type of charge is what can cause a minor shock after walking across a rug and then touching a conductor, as the charge builds up and then is discharged. Lightning is a very powerful example of the discharge of a static charge. An electrostatic detector will measure the amount of static charge, which can be used, with suitable assumptions, to estimate the amount of energy required to create the static field.

UFOs are sometimes reported to emit heat, or otherwise change the environment around an observer, and we will accordingly measure standard weather information, including temperature, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure, and wind speed and direction.

Reports of UFOs have often indicated that their appearance, including the intensity of their visible light, along with their color, often changes, sometimes quite rapidly. This variability is demonstrated by the fact that UFOs have been reported to pulsate, with their emitted light going on and off; however, that doesn't mean that the phenomenon itself has really disappeared. All the other wavelength ranges, and these other physical properties, must be measured simultaneously to see how they change as the UFO's appearance varies. And so we will measure the properties of the UFO continuously when the station is 'triggered' into action.

If you would like to read more about previous projects to record scientific data about UFOs/UAP, see this section on our Scientific Resources page.

Physics from UFO Data