Bad news today for UK UFO-spotters: that interdimensional alien mothership you spotted one night in Basingstoke while out walking the dog was probably ball lightning, or something equally terrestrial.
That's the conclusion of a secret 2000 MOD report which has been dragged from the X-Files by a freedom of information request from Sheffield Hallam Uni's Dr David Clarke, the BBC reveals.
The 400-page dossier, entitled "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK" and marked "Secret: UK Eyes Only", disappointingly concludes: "No evidence exists to suggest that the phenomena seen are hostile or under any type of control, other than that of natural physical forces." It adds: "There is no evidence that 'solid' objects exist which could cause a collision hazard."
For a flavour of the sort of phenomena which anxious citizens report to the powers that be, try the Ministry's UFO round-up section, which shows that on 20 February 2005, some terrified soul in Yeldersley, Derbyshire, spotted a "missile-shaped" object which was "turquoise in colour, metallic and looked reflective, and was the length of an estate car".
What, no alloy wheels and tints? We're not convinced, but what about a "triangular shaped, huge craft, with red lights on the stern" which "hovered over the southern suburbs of Shrewsbury" on 11 April?
That at least sounds like the precursor of a Martian invasion fleet, unlike this entry for 21 February: "Teddington, Middlesex: Something was seen in the sky."
Mercifully, the MOD is able to offer some down-to-earth reasons for these sightings. Its report explains:
"Considerable evidence exists to support the thesis that the events are almost certainly attributable to physical, electrical and magnetic phenomena in the atmosphere, mesosphere and ionosphere.
"They appear to originate due to more than one set of weather and electrically-charged conditions and are observed so infrequently as to make them unique to the majority of observers."
Of course, the UFOlogists will have none of it*. After all, there are plenty of people who claim to have experienced a Close Encounter. Or did they? The dossier continues: "The close proximity of plasma related fields can adversely affect a vehicle or person. Local fields of this type have been medically proven to cause responses in the temporal lobes of the human brain. These result in the observer sustaining (and later describing and retaining) his or her own vivid, but mainly incorrect, description of what is experienced."
And that's an end to the matter, the BBC reckons, since the MOD is not planning to invest further resources into UFO-hunting. A spokesman said: "Both this study and the original "Flying Saucer Working Party" [already released into the public domain] concluded that there is insufficient evidence to indicate the presence of any genuine unidentified aerial phenomena. It is unlikely that we would carry out any future studies unless such evidence were to emerge." ®
*Cue black helicopters, we suspect, as those who have been on the receiving end of an extraterrestrial anal probe queue up to claim the report is nothing more than a cover-up designed to hide the chilling truth from the plebs lest they run around like headless chickens at the prospect of wave upon wave of death-dispensing tripod vehicles chasing Tom Cruise around the US.
Here's a good example of this kind of thinking: a few years back during the height of the crop circle craze, an acquaintance admitted he and a few mates had nipped down to a Wiltshire cornfield and - in eight hours of nocturnal graft - created a magnificent example of the type offering thought-provoking geometry including the then-obligatory fractal elements.
They alerted the press, and waited in the local boozer for the whole thing to kick off. No sooner had the tabloids propped themselves against the bar, than mystical ley-line forces (the UK's mobile phone network, we suspect) drew a small crowd of crop-circle aficionados who began to speculate on the likely origin of the artwork's authors - Alpha Centauri, Ursa Minor, etc, etc.
At this point the humans responsible felt it only fair to 'fess up, but their claim to have knocked the whole thing up with chains and poles was met with: "No you didn't. You've been sent here by the government as a cover story."