The United States have one. The Danish used to have one, and so did the Brits, but no longer. France remains the only country in Europe to have one. So, what exactly is the GEIPAN?
The biggest space agency in Europe is France’s CNES (Centre Nationale d’Études Spatiales). It is the result of the 1960s space race and France’s grand determination to stay independent from the U.S. by building its own satellites, rocket launchers and providing elite space research.
The French Space Centre headquarters are located in Toulouse in the South of France. Part of it is Europe’s only full-time state-run UFO (Unidentified Flying Objects) research department.
The GEIPAN (Groupe d’Études et d’Informations sur les Phénomènes Aérospatiaux Non Identifiés) employs four staff, and a dozen volunteers, who are paid to go on site and investigate reports of strange sightings in the sky. Its mission is to document thoroughly each sighting and follow-up on each case the team comes across.
The idea is to provide details, including photographs, wherever possible, while also weeding out the jokers and the time-wasters.
On average, the GEIPAN hears about two UFO sightings a day.
The team has access to information regarding military flight paths, and is in contact with both the air force and air traffic controllers.
If someone gets in touch claiming to have observed strange lights in the skies, the GEIPAN might go online to check whether the sighting took place nearby a flight path. Commercial air traffic can be traced back more than a week. Sometimes the UFO team are really intrigued by the photographic evidence they receive, and sometimes the same sighting may have several witnesses. In that case, they may call the local police to consider the credibility of the witnesses. They might even double-check the circumstances of the observation with neighbours.
The GEIPAN archives go back to the 1950s, including documents containing eerie accounts of strange objects or phenomena encountered by fighter pilots on routine reconnaissance missions. The department has debunked or explained nearly all the reported phenomena. Weather balloons or kites have often been mistaken for alien crafts.
Recently, a new trend for floating sky lanterns (top picture) has caused many UFO reports. Space debris, falling meteorites or bright bolides are also common sources of confusion.
Around 400 UFO sightings going back to the 1970s remain unexplained.
However, the majority of people who do get in touch to report sightings are smokers, standing outside bars and cafés, or outside their own homes, stargazing at night… and perhaps puffing on something other than just regular cigarettes…