A creative illustration of a UFO in the sky. Credit: Corbis Earlier this year, Annie Jacobsen's book Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base drew groans from skeptics and believers alike, who derided her claim that the infamous 1947 Roswell crash was really a spy plane sent by Josef Stalin, and piloted by "alien-like children" created by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, intended to create a mass panic about an alien invasion.
The story was based entirely on one anonymous source without a shred of supporting evidence, which is not unheard of among UFO reports. UFO enthusiasts who like some documentation with their speculation might prefer journalist Leslie Kean's recent book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record.
Kean's book topped The New York Times best-seller list - an unusual achievement for a nonfiction book about extraterrestrials. Part of the reason the book has done so well, Kean told Discovery News, is that "I'm trying to be very straightforward as a journalist, laying out what we know based on the official records. Also, many of the chapters were written by other people [including generals and former Arizona governor Fife Symington], and [former White House chief of staff] John Podesta wrote the foreword. ... They're not just taking my word for it; the reader gets to actually read what these authorities have to say in their own words."
There are many cases in the book - from a UFO sighted over Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 2006 to reports from Brazil and Iran - but one famous UFO incident was solved shortly after the book came out.
The Belgian UFO Photo
It's a famous photo taken April 4, 1990, by a man known only as "Patrick" in the Belgian town of Petit-Rechain. Patrick and a female friend noticed a strange aircraft with four lights hovering in the sky above her home. He took a photo that has been called "one of the most convincing" pieces of evidence for the existence of UFOs.
According to one of Kean's contributors, Maj. Gen. Wilfried de Brouwer of the Belgian air force, a distinguished team of experts analyzed the photograph: "A team under the direction of Professor Marc Acheroy discovered that a triangular shape became visible when overexposing the slide. After that, the original color slide was further analyzed by Francois Louange, specialist in satellite imagery with the French national space research center, CNES; Dr. Richard Haines, former senior scientist with NASA; and finally Professor Andre Marion, doctor in nuclear physics and professor at the University of Paris-Sud and also with the CNES."
The team came to various conclusions, including that there was no indication of tampering with the slide, and that the lights were positioned symmetrically on the craft. A 2002 reanalysis "using more sophisticated technology confirmed the earlier findings and concluded that ‘the picture was not faked. The experts noted especially that the unique characteristics of the lights are very specific and said such an effect would not occur if the picture was a hoax.'"
In fact, the photographer confessed on July 26, 2011, that he had indeed hoaxed the photograph. The image, which was (twice) deemed authentic by the panel of distinguished scientists and experts, was really of a small piece of triangular Styrofoam spray-painted black with lights attached. The skeptics had been right all along.
Kean acknowledged that the hoaxing posed a serious problem: "If the guy says it was a hoax, we pretty much have to assume it was. We know that he's a liar. He either lied the first time, or he's lying now. I'm going to have to assume that he's telling the truth now, even though there's some questions about it." Belgian UFO expert Patrick Ferryn, who appeared in the History Channel show "Secret Access: UFOs on the Record," which was based on Kean's book, has also concluded that the photo was faked.