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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — According to a recent study led by University of Utah geographers, the best place to spot UFOs has been confirmed to be the American West.

Using data from the National UFO Research Center, U of U geographers examined the influence of environmental factors and whether they increase or decrease the number of reported sightings of UFOs — now referred to as Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, or UAPs.

“Most sightings occur in the American West where proximity to public lands, dark skies, and military installations afford more opportunities to see strange objects in the air,” the University said in a press release.

The press release referred to the movement of UAPs from the realm of conspiracy theories to reality when a whistleblower spoke to the House Oversight Committee in July 2023 about his experience seeing UFOs.

“The U.S. Department of Defense has increasingly taken UAP, formerly known as Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), as a serious threat to national security,” the press release said.

Details of the study

As stated in the press release, data from the NUFORC that was used in the study amounted to 98,000 total sighting reports between the years 2001 and 2020.

With those reports, researchers examined the “sky view potential” — how much light pollution is in the area — for each county in the contiguous states. They also looked at cloud cover and tree canopy cover, plus the proximity to airports and military installations, according to the press release.

According to the researchers’ findings, the majority of UFO sightings happened in the western United States because of the physical geography of the area, with darker skies and “wide-open spaces.”

Additionally, hotspots for sightings had “credible relationships with air traffic and military activity,” which the University said could mean people are seeing real objects without fully recognizing what they are.

Are people actually seeing UFOs?

“The authors note that the National UFO Research Center’s data is a public, self-reporting system with no real way to verify hoaxes,” the press release says. “However, the authors assert that if the data were entirely invalid due to some psychological and sociological cause, then there would be no spatial pattern. But there is.”

Richard Medina, associate professor of geography at the University of Utah and lead author of the study, said it is more likely for individuals to see unexplained items in the sky if there is more chance that known items are in the sky (such as from airports or the military).

“There’s more technology in the sky than ever before so the question is: What are people actually seeing?” Medina asked. “It’s a tough question to answer, and it is an important one because any uncertainty can be a potential threat to national security,”

Based on the findings, the West and isolated areas in the very Northeast of the U.S. saw “far more sightings,” classifying them as hot spots, while the “cold spots” were reportedly the central plains and the Southeast.

“The West has a historical relationship to UAP — Area 51 in Nevada, Roswell in New Mexico, and here in Utah we have Skinwalker Ranch in the Uinta Basin and military activity in the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground,” Medina said.

Medina also cited the “robust outdoor community” of Utah, which he said means people are generally looking at the sky more. Simon Brewer, co-author of the study and associate professor of geography at the University of Utah, said several factors can contribute to the reporting of these anomalous objects.

“By examining the spatial distribution of reports and how they relate to the local environment, we hope to provide some geographical context that may help resolve or understand reports by both the public and in military settings,” Brewer said.

How is the government involved with UFOs?

According to the press release, the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office was established in July 2022. The AARO is said to be the “single authoritative UAP office to lead and synchronize a whole government approach to the issue,” as stated in the release.

There have been both historical and recent sightings of flying saucers, but the University of Utah says many sightings have a natural explanation — such as seeing the planet Venus, large satellites, or personal drones.

Sean Kirkpatrick is another co-author of the study, in addition to being first director of the AARO and an adjunct assistant professor of physics at the University of Georgia.

“The U.S. government — the military, intelligence, and civil agencies — needs to understand what is in the operating domains to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its people,” Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick continued to say that the scientific community is responsible for investigating the unknown and educating about the unknown.

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