A Community Skywatching Adventure in Virginia

Nov 28, 2023

Our north star at Enigma is driving awareness and understanding of what’s in the sky. And our mission is sorting the identifiable from the anomalous. Every day, people all over the globe submit more and more unidentified object sightings to us. As these numbers grow, it remains a top priority for our team to be on the ground, listening and learning from people who have seen something they can’t explain. 

We’ve spoken to pilots at Oshkosh, fishers in upstate New York, locals in San Diego and festivalgoers at Something in the Water. Last week, Enigma went down to Virginia Beach to host a skywatching and UAP education event with Alejandro Rojas, our in-house UAP expert, and pilot Ben Hansen. This is our third trip to Virginia Beach and we were excited to see familiar faces. 

Why Virginia Beach? 

Before getting wide distribution of the app, our near-term realistic goal is to get distribution of the app in a chosen geographic area. With a higher concentration of app users in one area, we can get better coverage of the skies. We can also test out our phone alert system, so if one person spots a UAP, others nearby can be alerted. We are interested in Virginia Beach for a number of reasons: 

  • Historical context — the USS Roosevelt was stationed off the coast of Virginia Beach between late 2014 and early 2015, when a wave of anomalous objects were reportedly observed by U.S. Navy personnel. Read more in our sightings library
  • Current data — according to reports, that coastal area continues to be a hotspot of interesting, credible UAP sightings. 
  • Congressional interest — Virginia officials including Senators Warner and Kaine have expressed interest in better understanding the origins of UAP and voiced the need for investigation:   

“I was first briefed on these unidentified aerial phenomena nearly three years ago. Since then, the frequency of these incidents only appears to be increasing. The United States must be able to understand and mitigate threats to our pilots, whether they’re from drones or weather balloons or adversary intelligence capabilities. Today’s rather inconclusive report only marks the beginning of efforts to understand and illuminate what is causing these risks to aviation in many areas around the country and the world.” (Senator Warner, 2021)

  • Local community — the Virginia Beach population is made up of UAP enthusiasts and civic-minded folks who are aligned with our curiosity and mission. Nearly 15% of the local population is retired veterans, many of whom are excited and committed to build out a local SkyWatch. 

Discussions with Alejandro Rojas and Ben Hansen

On Thursday November 16th, our team gathered at Ocean’s Ole restaurant on the Virginia Beach boardwalk. We were thrilled that 75 people came to the event, and appreciate the caliber of people and conversations:

  • One couple drove in three hours from rural Virginia, as they had family experiences with UAP sightings and wanted to find a like minded community to discuss. 
  • An award winning UAP short film maker from New York dropped in to talk to Alejandro and Ben. 
  • One retired military aviation specialist had a cousin who had seen something from a plane while crop dusting. 
  • Another attendee brought her children along for a family UAP learning session. They often watch sighting videos together on TikTok.  

Virginia Beach community listening to Alejandro Rojas discuss the history of UAP.

We kicked off with Alejandro Rojas, who outlined the history of how UAP became a mainstream and serious issue in America. He also did a Q&A about Enigma, our product, data, how we are standardizing UAP sightings collection, and how individuals can join in the disambiguation effort. We heard so much love for our app, and got constructive product feedback. There were many requests for an Android version of the app – coming in 2024, we promise!

Then Ben Hansen jumped in with his presentation. Ben is a former FBI investigator and a pilot, now turned TV host on UFO Witness on Discovery+ and Travel Channel. He flies planes and drones, is an expert on night vision and thermal camera equipment, and presents his UAP research at conferences across the globe. Ben talked to the group about how to identify what's moving in the skies. He shared details on objects that might look strange at first or through night vision, but are actually known phenomena. Ben reviewed equipment and software that can aid investigators, including tools that identify what astronomical objects or aircraft you are looking at (similar to the Enigma AR Lens).

Skywatching outside

Ben brought along a range of equipment, from consumer night vision cameras to military grade scopes. After the discussions, we all walked out to the beach for hands-on time with the equipment. We were able to see how the technology worked, how much more is visible in the sky with night vision, and compare the differences with military versus consumer grade equipment.

As we gathered and looked at the stars people shared their own fascinating sighting stories. One attendee shared videos of something hovering around her home. Another recounted a sighting in 1997, when many cars stopped on a highway in Virginia to watch a green glowing orb slowly traverse the sky. We talked about UAP lore and theories, possible hotspots, and came away feeling inspired and excited by the mystery we are all puzzling over. 


Skywatching on the beach illuminated by a ship's light.

What We Learned

  • There is a strong desire for a community to safely and comfortably discuss UAP sightings with others. It can be isolating to have an unusual experience and not have a forum to engage with. 
  • People are excited to form local skywatching groups. 48% of attendees volunteered  to help organize future events in the Virginia Beach area. (Thank you.)
  • Most people (86% of attendees) said they would report seeing a UAP. But only 38% of attendees knew where to report their sightings. You can report through our website as well as on the iOS app, where you can also see if others nearby saw something similar.

Every day we are busy building and coding, so we always enjoy getting off our computers and out of the office to spend time outside and watch the skies. We felt encouraged and validated in the work we are doing to build for this community. When we speak to people in the field we are reminded of the glaring need for an inclusive, thoughtful UAP discussion and a reliable, standardized way to report sightings. 

We loved our time in Virginia Beach and are grateful to everyone who participated in the event. Over the next few months, we plan to build out more SkyWatch communities — local groups who are keen to meet up, watch the skies, and discuss UAP. If you are interested in hosting a SkyWatch event in your area we would be thrilled to support it. Reach out to [email protected] and we will make it happen. 

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –