Thousands of UFO sightings are reported each year across Europe’s skies, but since Britain’s UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) shut down its UFO desk in 2009, France has become the continent’s only country still running a dedicated state-run UFO agency.
France’s National Centre for Space Studies is the biggest space agency in Europe, and attached to the organization is a four person UFO department located in the south of France, called the Study Group and Information on Non-Identified Aerospace Phenomenon (Geipan). The team is also assisted by around a dozen volunteers who have their expenses paid for going on site and investigating reports of strange UFO sightings in the skies.
There appears to be no shortage of phenomena to investigate, either, and every day an average of two UFO sightings are reported, with Geipan’s boss Xavier Passot saying his mission is to ensure as many strange sightings as possible are followed up by his team. All the agency’s results are subsequently published online, with their popular website cnes-geipan.fr receiving around 30,000 hits each month.
When investigating reported UFO sightings, the team will first go online to see whether the sighting occured on an air traffic flight path, and the team can also check military flight paths as the agency is in touch with the French Air Force. Further investigation may then warrant contacting the local police to establish the sighting’s credibility, and even checking with neighbours to see whether the person had been drinking or “smoking” something other than cigarettes.
According to Geipan boss Passot, a large number of people who contact the agency are smokers who spot a UFO while puffing away at night outside bars or in their own gardens. In the vast number of reports, the department is able to explain away the phenomena, the most common culprits of which has proved to be Chinese lanterns released during parties. Consequently, investigators often get in touch with the local town hall to find out whether there had been a celebration or wedding going on at the time.
Other explanations include balloons, kites, space debris and falling meteorites, but there are currently around 400 UFO sightings dating back to the 1970s that the French UFO agency cannot explain. One such alleged UFO landing took place on January 8, 1981 in Aix-en-Provence, and has been described by Popular Mechanics as “perhaps the most completely and carefully documented sighting of all time”