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UFOs in the daily Press:

UFOs in the 1980 French Press:

The article below was published in the daily newspaper Le Varois - La Marseillaise, France, on Sunday, December 21, 1980.


In just a few months, millions of viewers around the world saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." This movie stirred imaginations and reignited the UFO debate.

Since May 77, in France, an organization, the GEPAN (1), created by the National Center for Space Studies (CNES), has the mission of studying the data collected, among others, by the national gendarmerie.

Claude Poher, head of this group, is therefore well placed to answer the questions that we all ask ourselves.

(1)– GEPAN: Group for the Study of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena.

Mr. Poher, do you believe in flying saucers?

The question is not to believe or not to believe in flying saucers. There are "things" that people see. These people are trustworthy and their testimonies, often very detailed, allow us a scientific study of the phenomenon. I investigated dozens of cases personally and discovered characteristics different from what is known. Some testimonies cannot be explained by known phenomena, observable in the sky.

What do UFO witnesses see?

Oh, a lot of things. It can range from weather balloon to ball lightning to glow worms. Meteorites, for example, last a short time, travel in a straight line and are visible over a large area. We sometimes receive 50 or 60 reports for a small meteorite or a satellite re-entry into the atmosphere. On the other hand, when we are told of a light as big as the full moon, which stopped in the middle of the sky to set off again in the opposite direction at a colossal speed, that is something unknown. GEPAN is therefore studying these inexplicable nocturnal lights.

But do the flying saucers that we see on the photographs exist?

The negatives are often difficult to obtain, which may prove the hoax. I analyzed some spectacular shots. It's a launched model, a car hubcap, a "thing" held at the end of a fishing rod. Some even tried to make money from the photos tabloids bought them. The only photos that look real, i.e. not doctored, are nothing spectacular, just a bright spot against a black sky background!

How do you separate fact from fiction?

There is not on one side what is true and on the other what is false. There are explainable aerospace phenomena and others that are not, or not yet. Apart from some pranksters, the witnesses are trustworthy. We have 15,000 testimonies, 80% of which are known and explained phenomena: sounding balloons, satellites, planets, etc. In the remaining 20%, we only work on cases where the testimonies are sufficiently detailed and numerous: the witnesses are competent or good observers, they describe the observed phenomenon well. If we consider nocturnal lights as unidentified, it is because they have an unknown brightness, size or trajectory.

Do you have teams that go to investigate on the very site of the phenomena?

We have rapid response groups that are ready to go on the spot day or night. The gendarmerie alerts us immediately after the testimony and we will investigate on the spot. A questionnaire allows us to determine the sincerity of the witness. Then we practice a reconstruction, as the gendarmes reenact a crime. For example, we have a sampler of 500 colors. We separately ask the witnesses what color the UFO was. Oh surprise, in 95% of cases, people give us exactly the same color. Then the investigators including the summary of their information. In almost all cases, the witnesses actually saw something. Then we try to find out what it was.

Did you solve some difficult cases?

In a few months, we identified 13 or 14 cases that initially seemed incomprehensible. But we also happen to conclude to the inexplicable. The perceived object is not identifiable.

Can we explain these phenomena by the presence of extraterrestrials?

Let's understand each other! Indeed, scientists believe that it is possible or rather probable that life appears or has appeared on other planets in the Universe. On the other hand, current science is incapable of realizing or even designing a machine capable of reaching the nearest star. In the current state of our knowledge, interstellar travel is impossible. As for the relay stations "proposed" by some, the thousands of observations made by astronomers would have made it possible to discover them. The extraterrestrial hypothesis should therefore be considered with great caution.

So what is your explanation?

We don't have a ready-made explanation. We are scientists and we study in detail all the testimonies. We sometimes find that the case in question is a known phenomenon, otherwise...

We are looking for ways to improve our work: before the end of the year, we will build a simulator to interview witnesses. This device, which completely reconstructs the observation, is a mobile box connected to an automatic recorder. It allows the witness, thanks to just his visual memory, to reconstruct "his" UFO. It is much more specific than words. This will be a very big step forward in the study of UFOs.

Flying saucers or known phenomena?

Several natural phenomena are sometimes at the origin of testimonies on UFOs. Here is a list compiled by GEPAN:

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