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The origin of today’s fascination can be traced back to civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold. While flying his small aircraft near Washington’s Mount Rainier on June 24, 1947, Arnold claimed to have seen nine blue, glowing objects flying fast—at an estimated 1,700 m.p.h.—in a “V” formation.

He first believed the objects to be some sort of new military aircraft—this was, after all, just two years after WWII and the first year of the Cold War—but the military confirmed there were no tests being conducted near Mount Rainier that day. When Arnold described the crafts’ motion as similar to “a saucer if you skip it across water,” the media coined the now-ubiquitous phrase “flying saucer.”

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