How to Conduct a UFO Skywatch
Created | Updated Jan 4, 2014
Your best chance at spotting an Unidentified Flying Object is by taking part in a UFO skywatch. A skywatch is an organised event where UFO enthusiasts meet up for three reasons; the hope of seeing UFOs, Unidentified Flying Objects, a chance of observing amazing astronomical events and a social event.
The realistic chances of anyone seeing a true UFO at a skywatch is quite remote, however, anyone attending these events will often learn more about what naturally flies around in the sky that they will often discover the source of many a reported UFO sighting.
A skywatch teaches people, under proper guidance, how to properly observe the night sky and their surroundings. This is often the key to solving a UFO sighting. A great thing about sky watching is that anyone can do it, and with appropriate arrangements can be lots of fun too.
Few serious ufologists spend time standing outside and studying the sky for long periods; astronomers, meteorologists and aircraft enthusiasts principally skywatch. UFO enthusiasts have rarely had this sort of observational training before, and it is a very important objective to learn about the astronomical, meteorological and man-made objects that give rise to a UFO sighting.
Most Lights in The Sky (LITS) cases are often the result of naturally occurring phenomena and not alien spacecraft and is the most commonly reported UFO. Ufologists use the term LITS to describe sightings of distant lights that are perceived as behaving strangely.
To be prepared is to be forewarned, and if a real alien craft ever did come into view, then the observer should be able to obtain some form of accurate data. This should come in the useful form of video footage and instrument measurements; the type of evidence needed for scientific scrutiny. The true study of UFOs relies purely on data and not belief or biased witness statements.
So Where do You go if You Want to Organise a Skywatch?
If you are not in contact with the local UFO or astronomical organisation, then why don't you conduct your own skywatch? First of all, it is safer to go as a group than to go alone. It is often very dangerous to skywatch alone, so going with at least one other person is strongly suggested. A group of four to six is often best, although there are occasions when several UFO groups get together where more than 20 people are present. It can be a truly fun social event.
Prior to the skywatch it is best to contact the police so that they know what location is being used and by whom. This is just in case of emergencies. Landowners should also be contacted to obtain their permission, eg farmers.
Essential items to bring should come in two categories; the observational equipment and, just as important, the edibles. If the skywatcher is going to spend long hours outside, they might as well enjoy every moment of it.
Food first. Bringing sandwiches, crisps, or hot food, if possible, is advised and something sweet and energy giving such as a bar of chocolate. One idea would be to bring a disposable barbecue set for burgers, sausages and buns. Hot food, hot drink, local radio and lots of humour will often create a good cheap night out.
Do not forget to bring drink along; the observer will get very thirsty throughout the night. Alcohol is strictly forbidden for obvious reasons; it lowers the body temperature to the extent that the skywatcher will become extremely cold. Skywatches are held throughout the course of the night, not just for a couple of hours, and therefore the skywatcher must remain comfortable and safe. The other reason for not bringing alcohol is that if anything unusual did happen, then an inebriated skywatcher will lose credibility.
Finally, always remember to bring a disposable bag along so that all of the rubbish can be contained within it and disposed of sensibly. Enthusiasts need to respect the environment and property they are on at all times.
The essential equipment
The clothing to wear for skywatches should also be carefully considered. Regardless of whether the watch is being done in the summer or the winter, warm clothing is a necessity. Several layers of clothing will ensure that a person stays warm and in this respect thermal underwear is a blessing. Waterproofs are handy just in case it does rain. Walking trousers are very good too. Sensible footwear like walking boots should be worn, even steel toe capped work boots are good enough. If the skywatch is located in an area where there the local rock is limestone or even sandstone and the night does turn wet then the surface will become slippery and dangerous in the dark. Do not wear any shoes that have high heels or no grip. Realistically, clothing should ensure that a person is warm, dry and comfortable.
Equipment should be brought in a handy, easy to carry shoulder bag, such as a backpack. Always bring a torch (flashlight for the American reader), as safety and being able to read equipment is important. A watch will keep an accurate record of the times of any observations being made. This is useful if a UFO sighting is actually linked to any noted observations made on the skywatch night. A mobile phone, walkie-talkies or a CB handset are useful devices for keeping in contact with other sky watchers who are not too far away. They are also invaluable for personal safety. In remote areas, mobile phone signals may be non-existent. Always try and carry a reliable means of communication in the event of an emergency.
An ordnance survey map of the area is vital, this enables you to get your bearings and become familiar with your surroundings. A compass is a great navigational aid that will also inform you if a magnetic field is present. Some UFO groups can afford to purchase a Trifield meter for such a purpose; these can be quite costly to purchase and need to be left in one place throughout the observation and not moved around.
A notepad and pen to record any observations, although a portable cassette recorder or other audio recorder is sometimes a better alternative, especially if filling in UFO sighting forms are going to be difficult to complete on a windy night. If any UFO is sighted, then these objects may not capture the audible reactions of those people watching the object, but it is also easy to obtain interview statements from those witnesses. In extraordinary situations, when subject to an appearance of a true UFO, unusual magnetic properties may be picked up by a tape recorder. This recording may be worthy of closer study by an electrical engineer.
Being prepared with information is the key to a successful skywatch. Another map to consider is one depicting the night sky. You can simply acquire such a map from either a decent astronomy shop or from the centre of a monthly astronomical magazine. A Planisphere is another very helpful device. This information will inform you of what to expect to see. It is useful to know what constellations and planets are visible. Meteor showers are responsible for many UFO sightings, because they often appear outside the normally recognised boundary of their visibility slot. Comet debris can appear at any time, can be unpredictable and do sometimes create great spectacular sky displays. Observations of broken satellites and their debris are also common to the night sky. Satellites, such as Iridium flares or NOSS, are fascinating wonders of the man-made world.
Binoculars are one of the best aids to bring along, as planets, stars and the Moon can be seen spectacularly with them. With lots of aircraft in the sky, binoculars will help identify most distant and strange looking moving lights. Some people will also bring telescopes along to a skywatch. Although this will not help you see true UFOs, on a clear night a telescope will sometimes provide the skywatcher with a wonderful view of planets and distant galaxies. Whereas, the telescope needs to be set up carefully, binoculars do not require that much attention. However, like anything else being hand held, looking through the lenses will be affected by natural hand shake, people do not keep still and a light will appear to moving or going around and around. The best method to prevent this shake from happening is to obtain a monopod or tripod for your binoculars, or to rest it on top of something solid. Like anything else you get what you pay for and if you decide to purchase a pair of binoculars or a telescope then it is worth thinking about investing good money to obtain quality equipment. Cheap binoculars and telescopes often disappoint, the lack of quality means that they may not get the desired results.
Binoculars are normally accompanied by a marking; 8X30, 8X40, 7X50, 10X50. The first number refers to the magnification, the second number is the aperture of the front lens in millimetres. As a rule of thumb the higher the magnifying power for a given aperture the fainter the image observed and the field of view is increasingly narrow. Any of these markings are suitable for the night sky. Binoculars with a power greater than X10 tend to be very difficult to hold steady and rely on a mount.
Bringing an automatic camera along will not really benefit the observer. A more professional camera is useful in photographing the night time sky than a UFO. Reported UFOs are often seen in flash, and in the dark a camera will very rarely capture this. In the perfect scenario of a brightly illuminated alien craft landing nearby, mounted SLR cameras are fine (automatic 35mm cameras are not a good choice for this activity, although digital cameras are slowly improving). If you are observing the sky during the daylight hours, then a camera can be useful so long as the film speed is high so that it can pick up any fast moving objects.
A more suitable piece of equipment is the video camera. It is capable of filming a nocturnal light, and if used properly can produce excellent results. For skywatches, as it is for investigations into haunted houses, anyone operating a video camera should always take with them a spare battery. Film footage has always produced better evidence of the UFO phenomena than photographs, although both are open to hoaxing. Sometimes extra equipment may be purchased so that the video camera can see in the dark using infrared lenses. This can be quite expensive, but may produce some decent results, particularly for crop circle enthusiasts who believe that they are caused by UFO activity, which takes place at night. The video camera should always be tripod-mounted.
Optional equipment may include a radio scanner. This can be useful, but it can also be illegal, especially if the user is listening to police broadcasts. Listening itself is not illegal in the UK, but acting upon information heard on the broadcast is. Being caught with one during a police investigation could result in criminal charges being brought upon the user. Usually a scanner picks up radio communications from aircraft pilots, and users believe that they have picked up UFO related information. There are a couple of reasons for this; either the information being transmitted concerns the flight of secret military aircraft or it may be regarding pilots reporting UFO activity. It may also be that the user is not familiar with radio jargon and may misinterpret what they are hearing.
Scanners are best purchased second hand, as they are more affordable. If the set includes AM and FM bands then the it will be useful for accompanying an observation. FM bands allows the user to pick up communications from civil aircraft and a frequency between 108-142MHz will also include control tower and search and rescue. Military forces use a frequency of 225-400MHz. If an apparent UFO incident is monitored, the user should be aware to note down the following details; date and time, the frequency of the message, the mode the message was in, such as FM, the call signs heard, the location of an incident, and a transcript of the message.
A strange suggestion
One strange suggestion for observation equipment is a small box of washing soap powder. Believe it or not, this white powder has the ability to start glowing if it is exposed to certain forms of radiation! In the opinion of some ufologists, where exotic types of UFO are alien vehicles, these craft emanate a radiation that can cause such an unusual reaction. As equipment goes, this is best left for the physics student to bring along.
If one is going to their first skywatch then the most basic of equipment is sufficient. The next step is to plan the location of a skywatch. Normally, a secluded place with a good all around view is recommended, such as a hill. A place with little light pollution is best, and places along the coast can sometimes provide this.
When to start a skywatch
A skywatch should begin in the early evening when there is still light. This will enable the group to become familiar with the surrounding landscape in accordance with a map. Try and locate the compass directions first, if a person can locate north then it will be easier to locate stars and planets. Observing the sky during the light hours can be just as difficult as during the night, the location may be the same but objects in the sky do appear differently. So it is also worth doing a skywatch at this time. In the northern hemisphere locating The Plough or Ursa Major will always direct the skywatcher to the north. The key to a skywatch is patience and diligence.
Once a person becomes accustomed to the night sky then the majority of lights visible in the sky on any given night will become identifiable. If any unusual unidentified lights are spotted then the details of the sighting should be recorded and sent to a local UFO and astronomical organisation for their records, as they are interested in looking at very different sets of data.