20 Legendary UFO Photos

Alien Scacecraft or Hoax: Are These Pictures Proof of Close Encounters?

UFO over a city
Lorenz and Avelar / Getty Images

Ancient aliens and UFOs, or “unidentified flying objects,” have been the stuff of legends for centuries. Modern “eyewitness” accounts began to surface as early as the latter part of the 19th century with reports of “mystery airships” appearing in U.S. newspapers. During WWII, allied airmen's eerie tales of encountering mysterious “foo fighters” captured our collective imagination, but it was after the Cold War that UFO sightings really took off. While the U.S. government started monitoring the skies for evidence that the Soviets might be developing secret stealth aircraft, many people believed—and continue to believe—that unexplained flying phenomena were of extra terrestrial origin. Pictures of so-called UFOs were touted as proof that alien visitors had made their way to Earth but even in the dark ages before Photoshop, it was easy enough to manipulate photographic technology. The following stories tell of possible UFO sightings, with photographs that may—or may not—prove that real close encounters may be closer than you think.

of 20

Los Angeles, California; February 25, 1942

1942-Los Angeles, California
1942-Los Angeles, California.

The legend: At 2:25 p.m, alarm sirens installed in the event of a Japanese air raid sounded as flying objects were spotted in the skies above Los Angeles. A blackout was declared and anxious, terrified citizens followed the instructions to extinguish all lights.

At 3:16 p.m., searchlights swept the skies and anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the unidentified flying objects over the Pacific. Witnesses recount the formation of small red or silver-plated objects high-speed flying at a high altitude was untouched by the anti-aircraft salvos. The larger craft pictured flew off without sustaining damage as well.

of 20

McMinnville, Oregon; May 8, 1950

1950-McMinnville, Oregon
1950-McMinnville, Oregon. Paul Trent

The legend: Photographed by Paul Trent after his wife spotted a strange object in the sky, these images were published in a local newspaper in McMinnville, Oregon. The photos were later published in the June 26, 1950 edition of Life magazine. The rest is history.

of 20

Washington, D.C.; July 19, 1952

UFOs in Washington DC
1952-Washington, D. C. United States Air Force

The legend: Early in the history of ufology (the study of unidentified flying objects) in the United States, extra-terrestrial visitors may made themselves known to the leaders of the free world by allegedly buzzing over the White House, the Capitol building, and the Pentagon. Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base picked up a number of UFOs on their radar screens on July 19, 1952, beginning a wave of sightings that are still unexplained to this day.

of 20

Rosetta/Natal, South Africa; July 17, 1956

1956-South Africa
1956-South Africa. South African Air Force

The legend: This famous photograph is part of a series of seven similar images, and was taken in the Drakensberg Mountains by a well-respected member of South African society. The photographer maintained the veracity of her sightings for the remainder of her life. She passed away in 1994. 

of 20

Santa Ana, California; August 3, 1965

Santa Ana, California
1965-Santa Ana, California. Rex Heflin

The legend: This photograph was taken by highway traffic engineer Rex Heflin while driving near the Santa Ana freeway. Heflin did not report his sighting, however, his pictures were published by the Santa Ana Register on August 20, 1965. The photos were reportedly confiscated and controversy arose regarding their authenticity.

of 20

Tulsa, Oklahoma; 1965

1965-Tulsa, Oklahoma
1965-Tulsa, Oklahoma. Life Magazine

The legend: In 1965, a series of strange low-flying objects were reported almost nightly by people of all ages and walks of life across the United States. As the year progressed, the number of these reports rose dramatically. On the night of August 2, 1965, thousands of people in four Midwestern states witnessed spectacular aerial displays by large formations of UFOs. That same night, a multi-colored disc was photographed in Tulsa, Oklahoma as it was observed performing low-altitude maneuvers. This picture was extensively analyzed, pronounced authentic, and later published by Life magazine.

of 20

Provo, Utah; July 1966

1966-Provo, Utah
1966-Provo, Utah. United States Air Force

The legend: The pilot of a twin-engine USAF C-47 "Skytrain" transport aircraft took this photograph at approximately 11 a.m on a July morning in 1966 as he was flying over the Rocky Mountains, about 40 kilometers southwest of Provo, Utah. The Condon Committee (a University of Colorado group funded by the United States Air Force to study unidentified flying objects) analyzed the negative and concluded that the photograph depicts an ordinary object thrown in the air. Many ufologists disagreed with their conclusion.

of 20

Woonsocket, Rhode Island; 1967

1967-Woonsocket, Rhode Island
1967-Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Harold Trudel

The legend: This daytime photograph of a slightly asymmetrical hubcap-shaped object with a small dome and aerial extending from the bottom was taken in East Woonsocket, Rhode Island by Harold Trudel. Trudel also believed he was in mental contact with space people, who were sending him telepathic messages to let him know where and when they would appear.

of 20

Costa Rica; September 4, 1971

1971-Costa Rica
1971-Costa Rica. Costa Rican Government

The legend: An official mapping aircraft of the Costa Rican government took this photograph in 1971. The aircraft was flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet over Lago de Cote. An investigation was unable to identify the object as a "known" aircraft. No "earthly" criteria have ever been given to explain the object. Debunkers took some stabs at it, but the photograph is still recognized as authentic by most investigators.

of 20

Apollo 16 / Moon; April 16-27, 1967

1972-Apollo 16
1972-Apollo 16. NASA

The legend: The UFO is pictured at just right of the top center of the photo. No explanation has been given for the object.

of 20

Tavernes, France; 1974

1974-Tavernes, France
1974-Tavernes, France. Anonymous French Medical Doctor

The legend: This classic image was taken by an anonymous French medical doctor in Var, France. Skeptics tried to discredit the picture on the grounds that "luminous rays cannot end like this." Normally, they do not, however, there are other possible explanations, such as these are not luminous rays at all but light emissions resulting from ionized air. Many still believe the object in the photograph is a UFO.

of 20

Waterbury, Connecticut; 1987

1987-Waterbury, Connecticut
1987-Waterbury, Connecticut. Randy Etting

The legend: Randy Etting, a commercial airline pilot with over 30 years' experience, spent a lot of time looking at the sky. On the night he took this photograph, he'd witnessed a number of orange and red lights approaching from the west. He got his binoculars and called his neighbors to come outside. By this time, the object was a great deal closer and seemed to be over I-84, just east of Etting's home. He reported that the lights were shimmering like distortion from engine heat, but he could hear no sound. "As the UFO passed over I-84, cars in both the east and westbound lanes began pulling over and stopping," he stated. "The UFO displayed a semi-circular pattern of very bright multicolored lights. Five motorists reported that as the object became visible a number of cars lost power and had to pull off the highway."

of 20

Gulf Breeze, Florida; 1987

1987-Gulf Breeze, Florida
1987-Gulf Breeze, Florida. Ed Walters

The legend: In November 1987, the Gulf Breeze Sentinel published a group of UFO photos they’d gotten from a local contractor named Ed Walters. Shortly after Walters' photos hit the local newspaper, more UFO photographers came forward with stories or sightings and more images, both still and moving.

However, thanks to a subsequent Pensacola News Journal feature by reporter Craig Myers the Sentinel's coverage was dismissed as "uncritical" and "sensationalist." Using a Styrofoam UFO model (found in the attic of the house where Walters was living when the Sentinel photos were first published), Myers was able to duplicate the original photos almost shot for shot.

of 20

Petit Rechain, Belgium; 1989.

1989-Petit Rechain, Belgium
1989-Petit Rechain, Belgium. Photographer Anonymous

The legend: The photographer of this famous Belgian UFO photograph remains anonymous. Taken on an April night during a well-documented UFO wave, the photo shows a triangle-shaped object with lights. As the original photo was too dark for the outline of the object to be seen clearly, it was subsequently enhanced, but that is supposedly the only correction made.

of 20

Puebla, Mexico; December 21, 1944

1994-Puebla, Mexico
1994-Puebla, Mexico. Carlos Diaz

The legend: Carlos Diaz, a photographer with an extensive collection of UFO images, shot this image while taking photos of the eruption of Mt. Popocatepetl in Puebla, Mexico. The photo shows a glowing, yellowish, disc-shaped object with a red hue toward the top, and windows or portholes. It has since been authenticated by many photographic experts and published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and books.

of 20

Phoenix, Arizona; 1977

1997-Phoenix, Arizona
1997-Phoenix, Arizona. CNN News

The legend: This photograph is one of many depicting one of the most publicized UFO events in history. First observed in a hexagram pattern at about 7:30 p.m. over the Superstition Mountains area east of Phoenix, the characteristic 8 + 1 formation of amber orbs was next seen in two separate arc patterns with "trailing lights" over the Gila River area at about 9:50, and again at 10 p.m. at the southern edge of Phoenix. Thousands reported seeing these objects and a handful of witnesses videotaped them on camcorders.

of 20

Taipei, China; 2004

2004-Taipei, China
Taipei, China. Lin Qingjiang

The legend: Lin Qingjiang, a worker in Hualian County of Taipei, saw what he believed to be UFO at about 10 p.m. as he was resting outside his home. Lin was quoted as saying that the object, shaped like a large bamboo hat, flew east and west five times within 10 minutes, during which time he as able to capture this photo on his cell phone.

of 20

Kaufman, Texas; January 21, 2005

2005-Kaufman, Texas
2005-Kaufman, Texas. lawwalk

The legend: The photographer states: "I was out today taking pictures of the chemtrails at 11:35 a.m. I was aiming my camera at a scrawny little cloud. As I was snapping the picture, I noticed a flash in the sky through the viewfinder. When the picture came on the screen, I noticed a gold-colored object at the top of the cloud I had captured also. I looked back where it was and of course, it was gone. I really couldn't tell much of what it [might] be until I downloaded it to my computer. I zoomed in on it and nearly fell out of my chair. It appears to be a craft of some kind with maybe windows or ports on the right side, in the middle. It also appears to be emanating a gas or some type of energy field around it, mainly at the top."

of 20

Valpara, Mexico; 2004

2004-Valpara, Mexico
2004-Valpara, Mexico. Mercury newspaper-Mexico

The legend: This image was taken by Valpara newspaper reporter Manuel Aguirre who noticed a band of glowing lights in the distance over the city skyline. This photograph has not been debunked, and to date is considered legitimate. The unknown object appears to be circular or spherical in shape.

of 20

Modesto, California; 2005

2005-Modesto, California
2005-Modesto, California. R. David Anderson

The legend: The unnamed photographer states: "I noticed some kind of craft toward my left that appeared from behind a tree . . . in our front yard. I rapidly rotated my camera on its mount and took one picture. There were several brilliant lights that surrounded this craft. It was impossible to make out the shape of the craft because the lights were so brilliant. The lights did not strobe or flash [as] a normal aircraft array would. Each light glowed with the same intensity and color as a sodium-vapor type street lamp."