More on Data Mining UFOs

UFO Shape Distribution Over TIme

More insights after analyzing 25+ years of sightings from the NUFORC database.

Many thanks again to Tim Renner for making the NUFORC UFO sightings dataset available on data.world.

Frequency of US UFO Sightings Normalized by Population

(Sort by “countByPop” to see which states report the most UFOs!)

statecountcountByPoppopulation
AK354.784394671551306731545
AL961.95791103129904354903185
AR772.55150646574933943017825
AZ2223.04998806795208577278717
CA8252.087961489790133739512223
CO2153.73345817554407775758736
CT1213.39383617644245743565287
DC70.9918540444265596705749
DE353.5943000562764698973764
FL4432.06260091554338321477737
GA1781.67648967174049710617423
HI271.9069520408624511415872
IA1083.42306192889539673155070
ID804.4766138892541681787065
IL2912.296433953730880412671821
IN1642.43604671802863236732219
KS792.711688475735882913314
KY1312.9321752061979474467673
LA801.7208764251545674648794
MA1802.590113278604246949503
MD1252.0675920657395036045680
ME765.6538700740656981344212
MI2682.68352695948284849986857
MN1372.42923651756001125639632
MO2173.5356830255279576137428
MS602.0160280953675372976149
MT625.8010176107666891068778
NC2382.269241932082161310488084
ND273.5430188094931907762062
NE351.80933908461917011934408
NH906.6190536077151691359711
NJ1771.99275178756590448882190
NM753.5768295841005632096829
NV702.2726121663967673080156
NY2941.511291428854593819453561
OH2902.48094378523581811689100
OK952.40082628859296683956971
OR1814.29140081517647954217737
PA3332.601158304385357712801989
RI262.45430972067123451059361
SC1633.16583908137061035148714
SD232.5998718150157294884659
TN1672.44395942500512936833174
TX3941.358813688054520528995881
UT832.58892973644695263205958
VA1762.06197186134785738535519
VT365.769332472207042623989
WA3154.1366306788552387614893
WI1592.7308166996826415822434
WV643.5711356267091931792147
WY233.9740202744147393578759

I was very surprised that northeastern states (ME, VT, NH) were at the top of the list.

Frequency of Reported US UFO Shapes Over Time

Distribution of Reported UFO Shapes

Reported UFO shapes have been relatively consistent over time. Describing a UFO as an unusual “light” is by far the most common. Also interesting is that there appears to have been a slight uptick in “fireball” sightings between 2012-2014.

Number of US UFO Sightings Reported over Time

Total UFO Sightings Over Time with 30 Day Moving Avg

There were 88,000 UFO sightings reported since 1994. The spikes are what’s interesting here. I call it the “4th of July Effect”. The blue line is the 30 day moving average, which helps to visualize trends over time. It appears that there was an uptick in sightings in 2020.

More detail on the 7 largest spikes:

DateSightings Count
July 4, 2010213
July 4, 2011165
July 4, 2012197
July 4, 2013180
July 4, 2014273
July 4, 2015173
Nov 7, 2015297

It’s not surprising that the top day for UFO sightings is consistently July 4th. Probably more than any other day people have their eyes in the sky because of fireworks celebrations. I would imagine there’s a good deal of misidentifying fireworks as UFOs.

The day to look into is November 7th, 2015. That’s an odd date and represents the most US UFO sightings ever reported in a single day. Perhaps a subject for a future post.

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Data Mining Black Triangle UFOs

Black triangle UFOs are an enigma and there have been 430 sightings that reference this exact phrase in the NUFORC since 1994.

NUFORC Black Triangle UFO Sightings by State

I have a fascination with weird patents, especially in the category of “unconventional spacecraft propulsion systems“, so I thought it would be interesting to see the similarities between reported sightings and two of my favorite patents (this one and this one).

Check out my Youtube video to see the weirdness that I discovered.

Many thanks to Tim Renner for making the NUFORC UFO sightings dataset available on data.world. Here are a few additional insights after analyzing the data.

This first chart is not too surprising. More populated states tend to have more reported sightings.

Black Triangle US UFO Sightings by State Since 1994.

Black triangle UFO sightings by state since 1994

This next chart tracks number of sightings over time. The reports are amazingly consistent, since 2006 on average there are two black triangle UFO sightings per month.

Black Triangle US UFO Sightings Over Time – 30 Day Moving Average

Black triangle UFO sightings over time

This next one shows the words that are most frequently included in the sightings reports. I used a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm and looked for common 2 or 3 word groupings (ngrams). Not too surprising that “black triangle” would be the number one description in black triangle UFO reports.

What’s more interesting is the common theme of white and red lights, large object, moves slowly and is silent.

Black triangle US UFO Sightings – Frequent Terms

Black triangle UFO sightings common terms

In 430 sightings, 53 included the term “huge”, 131 included “large” and 103 contained the term “silent”.

For the next one I attempted to group the 430 sightings by common terms. You can see 7 clusters with the most common 10 words. What’s interesting here is group #3 where the witnesses were concerned about anonymity. Group #5 associates corners with colors.

Black Triangle US UFO Sightings – Clusters by Description

Black triangle UFO sightings clustered terms

My takeaway after this deep dive into black triangle UFO sightings is two-fold:

First, there has been an amazing consistency in both the frequency of sightings and what has been described.

Secondly, we’re never going to be able to move forward in understanding what’s actually happening without hard evidence. Witness testimony serves a purpose by bringing attention to the subject, but without measurable physical evidence there can be no conclusions.

The Symbolic Hieronymus Machine

The Weird Tale of the Device without Parts

You encounter them every day, but have you ever stopped to think about what makes a machine a machine?

Merriam-Webster defines a machine as “a mechanically, electrically or electronically operated device for performing a task”.  But consider for a moment, a device that has no parts or power source (mechanical or electrical), and whose function is defined with just lines and symbols. If it somehow miraculously manages to work, can it still be considered a machine?

This is the odd story of just such a device. 

To understand the Hieronymus Symbolic Machine you first need to understand the origin – a patented device of the same name that was not symbolic at all. 

Here’s where we meet Dr. Thomas Galan Hieronymus. His invention was an electronic device intended for the detection and analysis of minerals using a phenomenon he coined “eloptic radiation”. Aptly named the “Hieronymus Machine”, he was granted a U.S. patent in 1949.

Parts included a simple pickup coil, an optical prism, an amplifier circuit, and a touch-sensitive output device.

To operate the device you simply place a mineral sample by the pickup coil so that the “eloptic radiation” could flow through the circuit and be amplified by the prism.

Using a combination of a touch-sensitive plate and a tuning knob, you would then calibrate the device for the sample. Now with a known value or “rate”, it becomes possible to determine if that same mineral is present in future samples.

US Patent # 2482773- Hieronymus Machine

Dr. Hieornymus believed that all matter emanates a previously unknown form of radiation. He claimed that this eloptic radiation resonates at different rates depending on the material and that his device could be tuned to detect that rate.

Obviously, there is no supporting evidence for the existence of eloptic radiation. In fact, the machine doesn’t operate by any known principles of physics. However, users have nonetheless claimed success with being able to consistently determine the mineral composition of objects placed by the device.

If that’s not strange enough, here’s where the story really gets weird.

Enter John W. Campbell, Jr., editor of Astounding Science Fiction, a science fiction magazine published under a variety of titles since 1930. He was an outspoken proponent of the device and published an illustrated set of articles in 1956 detailing its construction and usage. 

It was at this time while testing the device with a volunteer, that he made an accidental yet confounding discovery:

During one experiment, he found that the Hieronymus machine appeared to work perfectly fine even though he’d forgotten to plug it into a power outlet.

Amazingly, with no power applied to the circuit, the Hieronymus machine still managed to produce results. In repeated tests, he found that some operators were still able to correctly identify the mineral composition of unknown samples that were placed by the device.

The device works well, repeatably, and predictably for many individuals – but it works just as well when it’s not plugged into the power supply as when it is.

Campbell developed a theory that it was not the physical components of the device that made it work, but rather the symbolic relationships of the parts with each other. He believed that it was the influence of the users’ mind, using some form of psychic force that was the operating principle.

After extensive testing, in the August 1956 edition of Astounding Science Fiction, he had this to say about the device: “the device works well, repeatably and predictably for many individuals – but it works just as well when it’s not plugged into the power supply as when it is.”

To prove this theory, he created a copy of the device that was entirely symbolic, using nothing but a schematic drawn in india ink to represent the parts of an actual Hieronymus machine. Quite astoundingly, while testing he observed fully equivalent results.

“I can’t defend, or even describe, the process by which I arrived at a hunch, these things depend upon relationship as a thing itself”

Over time many people have built their own versions of the Symbolic Hieronymus machine and have claimed similar success in seeing an effect.

If true, how could this possibly work?

I would put this phenomenon firmly in the “dowsing rod” category. For hundreds of years, people have claimed success dowsing for assorted objects and materials.  If there’s any effect, it’s certainly not the mechanics of simple bent metal rods. Perhaps operator intention, or psi, is the driving force behind Campells’s claims.

Campbell articulated his hunch in an article he published in the February 1957 edition of Astounding Science Fiction, where he stated, “I can’t defend or even describe the process by which I arrived at a hunch, these things depend upon relationship as a thing itself.” He also wrote: “The daring generalization here is that symbols and their relationships have a definite physical effect upon human beings.”

Is it that far-fetched to believe that symbols alone have the power to influence people? 

Some believe that at a very deep level, that reality itself is just a set of connected and self-referencing symbols. We attach meaning based on the spectrum of reality that we can actually perceive and then we codify it. This abstraction means that we’re not entirely objective and at times we’re not even aware of our perceptions at a conscious level.

Campbell was convinced that his symbolic device worked. He was also sure that whatever the process was that made it work was not based on physical science.

So this brings us back full circle: Is the Symbolic Hieronymus Machine really a machine at all?

By definition, a machine is mechanically, electrically, or electronically operated and performs a task. A simple lever is a machine just as much as a quantum computer. 

Perhaps, in this case, the leverage is the relationship between the symbolic components and the operator’s intention. And the task is the manifestation of the intention, which is to identify the unknown sample. 

Maybe Campbell had it right. 

But not everyone agrees, and certainly not Dr. Hieronymus himself. 

He’s quoted as saying: “I appreciate Mr Campbell’s interest in my work, but over the years since then, I have concluded that he’s set back the acceptance of my work by his continual emphasis on what he termed the supernatural or magic aspects…”

I’m not sure where I land with Mr. Campbell’s claims, but one thing that for certain is that a symbolic machine is super easy to build. Try it out. Perhaps you too might find your perspective on machines changing forever.