With skies lacking light pollution and most nights free, New Yorkers reported nearly twice as many mysterious sightings last year.
Source: New York Times
In the years since she says extraterrestrial beings took her from her suburban yard outside Rochester, N.Y., Virginia Stringfellow has kept her story mostly within a close-knit community of people who say they have also encountered U.F.O.s.
But over the past year, that pool has grown: Each of her monthly locals-only U.F.O. meet-ups average about five new people who believe they have seen a mysterious object in the sky — not including about 50 out-of-towners who have tried to join.
“I have to turn away people,” said Ms. Stringfellow, 75.
Sightings of unidentified objects in 2020 nearly doubled in New York from the previous year, to about 300, according to data compiled by the National U.F.O. Reporting Center. They also rose by about 1,000 nationwide, to more than 7,200 sightings.
But according to ufologists (pronounced “yoof-ologists”), as those who study the phenomena call themselves, the trend is not necessarily the result of an alien invasion. Rather, it was likely caused in part by another invader: the coronavirus.
Pushed to stay home by lockdown restrictions, many found themselves with more time to look up. In New York, droves of urbanites fleeing the virus took up residence in places like the Catskills and the Adirondacks, where skies are largely free from light pollution. About a quarter of the reports nationally came in March and April of last year, when lockdowns were at their most strict. Glimmers wobbling across the sky have gone viral on TikTok, racking up millions of views.
Longtime U.F.O. enthusiasts say the pandemic clearly has more people scanning the night skies. But there is another reason that the public might be newly receptive to the idea that the flicker on the horizon is worth reporting: The Pentagon revealed over the summer that it would soon convene a new task force to investigate so-called “unidentified aerial phenomena” observed from military aircraft. Last year, it declassified three videos of such sightings.
In addition, the $2.3 trillion appropriations package signed by former President Donald J. Trump late last year includes a provision that the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence collaborate on a U.F.O. report and release it to the public.
“It’s encouraging to many of us in the field of ufology that the government is willing to confirm that they are aware of these circumstances, that they are conceding that people are reporting these events,” said Peter Davenport, the director of the U.F.O. reporting center, known as NUFORC.
Previously, he said, the government appeared to have believed “that people like me are just crazy — and we’re not.”
Mr. Davenport and his peers are quick to point out that any uptick in sightings does not mean a spike in flying saucers. Unidentified flying objects are just that — airborne phenomena that have not yet been identified. The vast majority of sightings called in to the reporting center are swiftly determined to be things like birds, bats, satellites, planes and drones, he said.
A number of sightings in Northern Idaho last year were quickly identified as satellites launched by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private space company, which launched a large number of small internet satellites that were temporarily visible from the ground after they reached orbit. One viral TikTok video of an object hovering in New Jersey last year turned out to be a Goodyear blimp.
“A skilled U.F.O. investigator is one of the most skeptical people around,” Mr. Davenport said.
Only a small fraction of reports scrutinized by NUFORC, which is based in Washington State, are truly not identifiable. That proportion has not changed even as more calls have poured in, according to the director.
Ufologists are frequently prickly when it comes to the subject of apparent increases in U.F.O. sightings, warning that bumps occur with regularity over the years, and are a favorite subject of news reports. The coverage itself may also drive up so-called sightings, they warn.
In New York, as city dwellers have tried to escape the virus by relocating to the countryside, they have driven up rural sightings, said Chris DePerno, the assistant director of the New York State branch of the Mutual U.F.O. Network, a nonprofit organization that uses civilian investigators to study reports of U.F.O.s.
Absent urban light pollution, he said, the transplants are taking new notice of the night sky and whatever may be in it.
“They come up toward the Hudson Valley, it’s beautiful up there, you get clear skies and then all of a sudden you see this thing zipping through the sky, that stopped on a dime, goes straight up, takes off again, stops, comes back — we’re talking incredible speeds,” said Mr. DePerno, a retired police detective.
“With the Covid thing, more people are looking up,” he said.
The seeming uptick in reports has come as a relief to some who say they’ve seen mysterious floating craft, but feared they were alone.
“Because of the Pentagon being outed, there is more news now, there is more reporting now,” said Ms. Stringfellow, who goes by Cookie. “People aren’t so afraid to say, ‘Oh, jeez, I was in the woods now, or I was by the lake, and this thing came down.’”
But for a 65-year-old retired New York State Park Police officer from Granville, along the state border with Vermont — who asked not to be named because he worried about going public with his belief in U.F.O.s and extraterrestrial life — full acceptance still feels a ways off. The lingering fear of ridicule may be suppressing the true numbers of U.F.O. sightings, he suggested; there might in fact be more out there.
He urged city folks to stay calm should they see a U.F.O., just as he did one evening about 30 years ago, when, he said, he spotted a football-fields-long object floating beside the Taconic State Parkway as he finished a patrol shift. And most importantly, he said, people should not let fear of being mocked prevent them from reporting what they see.
If enough people report U.F.O.s when they see them, the retired officer added, the world will believe they are telling the truth.
Source: New York Times