UFO and Alien exhibition studies (c. 1960s)

Alien drawing

UFOs, or “Unidentified Flying Objects,” inspire fear, wonder and curiosity. In the 1940s, the FBI and the US Army investigated several reported sightings of disk-shaped saucers, including a small saucer with a 30.5” diameter discovered in Twin Falls, Idaho.

More recently, in November 2004, the US Navy investigated reports of “anomalous aerial vehicles” flying more than 80,000 feet above the US Navy’s missile cruiser the USS Princeton. The pilots dispatched to investigate reported witnessing at least two objects. One object was visible beneath a surface of crashing waves, while another object, whitish in color, about 40 feet long, and oval-shaped, was seen jerking erratically about 50 feet above the water.

What kind of extraterrestrial creatures might be exploring Earth with disk- or oval-shaped flying vehicles? We tend to imagine humanoids with strange-to-us skin of a greenish hue. Or we imagine massive part-human, part-fish, part-insect creatures with exoskeletons and a mouth full of teeth. When imagining the unimaginable, we like to borrow from Earth’s own creations. For example, film director Ridley Scott’s alien from Alien (1979) has limbs just like ours and a monstrous fish-like head with row upon row of slobbery teeth. The result is an utterly terrifying, but not altogether foreign creature.

UFO drawing

This image of a UFO was part of the art direction for an exhibition at the AMNH. It is worth asking, however, what scientific knowledge or value can be seen in works such as this? Museums now, including the AMNH, would likely not exhibit such an image, as it would be seen as too artistic, too fantastic, too un-scientific and unconnected to hard data. But is a museum merely a place to reflect what is known, or is it a place to inspire people to think of what could be? What happens when science and data is actually limiting? Does it make us miss truths that could be right in front of us, or in this case, right above us?

Written by Katrina Van Dyke

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