Jana is an amateur everything when it comes to space, nature and science. She loves exploring mysteries, both classic and new.
If you are curious about starting with this new hobby, you will be glad to know that it won't nuke your wallet, can be done practically anywhere and is a fantastic way to unwind (unless you witness the mother ship invasion). This article is for the casual stargazer who wants to have a fun evening and not spend gazillions.
You will learn how to:
- Decide on a safe location.
- Prepare to fly solo or in a group.
- Pack supplies like first aid, food and drink.
- Pack the right equipment.
- Stave off boredom.
- Recognize the importance of a sky watch log.
- Decide what to do when you see something.
Setting Up Your Planetary Defense Station
AKA—wherever you place your fold-up chair.
When planning your first sky watch, it might be best to set up camp in the back yard. View it as the test run. Pick a balmy night and go through the evening to see what you liked a lot, what didn't go down so well, and what items you had to go back into the house for.
While this read will ready anyone for a sky watch, every person will bring their own individuality to the situation. Therefore, it is better to hold the first watch near your home. Your initial experience will be spoiled if you lacked certain comforts or equipment and you had to do without them because you were too far up a desolate mountain to quickly pop back into the house. Next time, pick any location you fancy. Thanks to your garden watch, you will know exactly how to make the evening more enjoyable.
Important Considerations When You're Away From Home
This hobby is mostly location friendly. However, there are a few things to keep in mind once you decide to stray from your home zone:
- Make sure that you know your local laws about trespassing. Some areas do not allow people to remain after certain hours, while other sites are closed to the public at all times. Also, avoid private property when the owner never gave permission for anyone to camp out between his corn.
- Do not think you are immune to crime. Most muggings and attacks are opportunistic events and if you are alone in a dangerous area, you're as good as the next victim to a criminal. Sky watching is a night-time hobby, which unfortunately, is when most of the bad elements are out on the prowl. Make absolutely certain the location you choose is safe, even if you go with a group.
- The same thing counts for areas where there is wildlife. Set up camp in an area designated for human use and stay aware of your surroundings as much as you look up at the sky. Death by a grumpy moose is not the way to go.
- Apart from staying safe and legal, the ideal location should be free of artificial light. This is not always possible, especially when living in a city. However, more darkness is always better. You will be able to spot movements in the sky that will otherwise be obscured by street lamps or that weird neighbor's Bat Signal patio light.
Should You Go Alone or With Friends?
Off the bat, here are some benefits of going in a group:
- It's a whole lot safer. Criminals and wild animals are less likely to trouble five or six people than the lone individual.
- When a UFO sighting occurs, multiple witness sightings are always (perhaps unfairly) viewed as more credible.
- A good conversation between friends or family can make the dry spells of the night very enjoyable without distracting you from the actual sky watch.
It may prove difficult to convince that many to drop the clubs or their usual weekend poison to stare at the Milky Way. On the other hand, it may just be novel enough for them to try it, especially the night owls in your social circle with an interest in camping and the paranormal. If you manage to drum up an interested group, organization is key. Decide on matters concerning transport (will you carpool or take your own vehicles?), be clear on how long each person wants to stay, where to meet and food to bring. There's no reason why a sky watch can't double as a barbecue.
Advice for Going Solo
This does not mean that you shouldn't go solo. Some people like hunting UFOs on their own and that's fine. In the end, it is about what brings the most out of the hobby for you and if that means going alone, then by all means have your own sky watch.
Whatever you decide, dress for the occasion. Check the weather beforehand to make sure that it's not going to be rainy or cloudy. Throw on some warm clothes and a good pair of shoes. One aspect that makes this hobby loved by many is that you can get really cozy. What's better than sipping hot coffee in a comfy chair, eating snacks and even wrap yourself in a blanket? Go all out, it's a really relaxing time to cater to one's creature comforts.
Inside the Backpack of a UFO Chaser
Beside creature comforts, there are essentials to consider.
Protection Against the Elements
The kind of shelter you will need depends on the duration of the watch and of course, the location. Just going to spend two hours in the back yard before bed? Then your house is in the background to provide some TLC should the weather get cranky. Away from home, choose somewhere that allows you to park your car nearby or take a tent along. A car makes an excellent shelter against the cold and wind while allowing the sky watch to continue.
Medicine and First Aid
There is no reason why you can't enjoy this hobby if you use chronic medication for a serious condition. Just make sure not to miss the scheduled times for taking your meds and as a safety precaution, take an extra amount to cover the next few dosages. Many times, people go camping, sightseeing or just for a drive and the vehicle decides to strike. That way, if you have car trouble the next morning, or a sudden storm prevents any driving then at least you have your next dosage covered.
Always take along a basic first aid kit, especially when going into areas where falls, stings and allergies might occur. But like the old phrase goes - prevention is better than cure. Don't forget your physical safety needs. Keep your phone charged and ready should you need to call for help.
Pack your favorite snacks and also something a bit more nourishing. Sandwiches and ready-made meals are popular choices. When packing your food basket, always adds something warming, such as a flask of coffee or hot chocolate. Ideally, alcohol should leave the stage. More people are witnessing strange phenomena in the skies and more than ever, others are willing to listen—if the one recounting the event is believable.
Unfortunately, credibility swirls down the drain when investigators or interested citizens learn several six-packs and marijuana were involved. Then it doesn't matter if the Emperor from the planet Blob really shook your hand, it won't be taken seriously.
- A comfortable chair.
- A notebook.
- A source of light for writing notes. You can pack a small flashlight or use the screen of your cellphone.
- A way to tell the time. Again, a cellphone is ideal.
- An accurate thermometer.
- Several pens or pencils.
- Size objects. These gauge a UFO's size. When held at arm's length, choose the one that matches the UFO's size the closest. Watchers assemble their own mix but generally, include things like a pea, different coins and round pebbles.
The good news is that a sky watch can be held with absolutely zero equipment. But if you want to see patterns, look at the conditions that occurred before a sighting or have some sort of record of your hobby, then the least you can get away with is a pen, notebook and the time.
How to Use the Log Book
This is the heart of your hobby. The notebook will record everything you experience during a sky watch. In fact, some watchers write prolifically in their logs and instead prefer a clipboard with an A4 writing pad. That way they can file it away in binders. Sky watching has some very serious hobbyists!
First write the date at the top of the page and directly beneath it, the location. Leave a line open. Then, on the next, note the time you start the watch and write a simple note next to it saying, "Started watch". Ideally, note the weather conditions and write them down. Is the sky cloudy and how much? Is there a mild, strong or complete absence of wind? What is the temperature (that's where the thermometer come in handy), humidity and so on. It may seem irrelevant but researchers have discovered that there is a surprising link between certain weather conditions and the appearance of UFOs.
Next, decide on a time bracket to make regular environmental checks. That's basically just writing down everything you see, feel, hear and the weather conditions. You can do this every 15 minutes, half an hour or by the hour. Don't make it longer than an hour though. Important details can change within a few minutes. Do your bracket entries throughout the night.
The moment you see something identifiable, note the time and describe what you saw. For example, you saw a satellite or the flashing lights of an airplane, or even a distant car making a turn on a mountain pass. Why? Recording mundane moving objects serve a two-fold purpose.
- It keeps you from dying of boredom.
- It actually makes you a better witness.
Most UFOs have really boring explanations. For example, a family is camping in late, misty conditions and suddenly they see glowing orbs in the distance that move eerily. They are inexperienced, the mist is distorting reality and they don't know that the UFOs they reported were in fact floating lanterns released by a nearby beach party. Just an example, but something as ordinary as mist can do really weird things to normal light sources.
But here's the real point. When logging IFOs (Identified Flying Objects) or even those that don't fly, you become an expert in eliminating the usual suspects. With it you gain experience and there will come a time when you see something that doesn't match any known IFO - then you know you have something that might be paranormal. This practice will also prove that you are an above-average witness. After a sighting, people will try to poke holes in the story. For example, some might say you saw a certain thing, a plane or comet, but if you already have that particular IFO in your logs, it shows you recognized it as such on a previous occasion and wasn't fooled. Record everything, even fireworks and searchlights. The ability to objectively identify a given situation will make you a valuable UFO hunter and researcher.
I thought It Would Be More Exciting Than This . . .
Perhaps the biggest disappointment to newcomers is that a sky watch can get super boring. The main culprit is misplaced expectations. Who doesn't want to see something amazing? Such excitement is completely normal and the reason why this hobby is practiced by thousands of people. But seasoned veterans of the night skies know that there will be quiet times during every sitting.
That's where friends come in handy. A good conversation will make those uneventful hours fly by and you'll get to know your buddies better. Some solo watchers take a radio, UFO book or a hand craft. A book is particularly handy to teach yourself more about the shapes UFOs have and to learn about the phenomenon's fascinating history.
Whatever you choose to keep yourself occupied with, it mustn't be distracting you from the watch. The Internet is not the best idea since browsing might become a little too interesting and the glare of the laptop or phone's screen will leave you with a degree of night blindness. Don't let slow hours turn you away from a great outdoors activity. Some people hit it lucky on their first watch! Remember, most witnesses who saw a UFO weren't even holding a sky watch.
What to Do When You See Something
It's the moment you have been waiting for. You're sure you saw something that cannot be written off as a mundane event. Remember that a good UFO report has three phases.
- What happened before the sighting?
- What happened during the sighting?
- Reporting the sighting.
1. What Happened Before the Sighting?
This is where the evening's log will come in handy.
2. What Happened During the Sighting?
In other words, how long did the event last, how big and bright was the object, was there any defining shape or colors and how did it move? What about noise? Some UFOs hum, rumble or buzz while others are completely silent. Be on the lookout for unusual visual effects as well. Did it look fuzzy around the edges, was there rippling or any other kind of distortion? If you can, note the direction it flew, how high and did it move in a straight/vertical or zigzagging line? Take photos or a video if possible.
After the UFO is gone, immediately look at the weather conditions. Write down everything you can; temperature, wind, mist, rain, cloud cover and so forth. Try to be very thorough with your description of the sighting and surroundings. Write it down in your log book. The human mind is a funny thing. As time passes, the more tiny details are added that weren't there in the first place, real parts of a memory can be forgotten or twisted. Don't wait until the next day to record your sighting.
Don't forget to experience the wonder of it! Sure, sky watching is about gathering new information but enjoy the moment when you do see something weird. It doesn't happen to everybody.
3. Reporting the Sighting
This is a completely optional third step. Some people do not want to report a sighting because it can be very daunting. Despite that we live in a time where society is more open-minded, it doesn't mean that witnesses are always treated well. Some have been made out to be insane, attention-seeking or the town joke. No wonder so many reports are made under pseudonyms and this is a real pity. UFOs are a genuine mystery and every personal experience adds valuable information to a globally-studied phenomenon.
If you decide to report your sighting, here are a few guidelines:
- Be careful about who you share your experience with. It's not fun to see a trusted friend or family member laugh because they don't believe you had an extraordinary encounter.
- Avoid newspapers and radio stations. At best, your case will be mentioned but these institutions aren't equipped to investigate a sighting. At worst, if the DJ behaves like a clown, you might be treated like a loony.
- Do your homework. If you saw something you believe is a genuine UFO sighting, then give it to somebody who is worthy and respectful. Be patient and browse online for UFO research groups. There are plenty of organizations that are decades old and professional. The best will have scientists and seasoned field researchers.
- Read about other witnesses' experience with such groups. Do they complain in forums that they were treated badly, received no acknowledgment after submitting a report or no feedback about the subsequent investigation? If an organization receives consistently bad reviews, move along and keep searching.
- When an organization is interested in your data, don't hand over your original materials. If you are familiar with UFO stories, you will know why. Feel free to photocopy or scan your log book's entries, your written report and hand them over. Never give the negatives if you used traditional photo film. At the most, you can allow a researcher to look at them while you are present. If you took digital photos, leave backup copies on several devices and online storage applications. This may sound uncooperative and paranoid but once again, do your research and you will see the shocking amount of cases where valuable evidence was misplaced by the experts and subsequently, never found again. Without physical backup, in this case photographic and video evidence are the nearest thing, your UFO story will be just that. A story.
A Final Tip for the Serious Hunter!
- Want to increase your chances of seeing a UFO? Then pump up the caffeine levels so you can make it bright-eyed and bushy tailed to the hour of 3AM. Studies have shown that more sighting occur at this ungodly hour than any other.
Nobody knows why!
© 2017 Jana Louise Smit