Are we alone in the universe?
Ever since humans first looked up at the sky and began wondering about our place in the infinite void of space, we've entertained the possibility that other life could be out there. And we've always hungered for connection with intergalactic creatures, building religions around them and even labeling them as the ultimate bringers of the apocalypse.
Occasionally, though, with surprising frequency, some people have done a lot more than simply imagine aliens. Tens of thousands of people have reported interactions with aliens (and an untold number have had experiences that they've kept to themselves). Ranging from mass sightings to full-on abductions, man's encounters with aliens have inspired dozens of science fiction movies and conspiracy theories. But truth is always stranger than fiction.
In 1947, something crashed in the desert near Roswell, Nevada—and sparked a nationwide interest in aliens that continues to this day. According to the U.S. Air Force, the object was a balloon meant to monitor the Soviet Union, but many people today believe that story was a coverup for the government's illicit alien-related activity in the Nevada desert. The event made Area 51 famous—and either catalyzed a bunch of hallucinations in the coming decade or incensed a bunch of aliens enough to inspire them to begin abducting and investigating humans.
After the Roswell incident, UFO reports exploded. A few cases stand out from the rest, though, due to their highly public natures. On December 9, 1965, thousands of people in North America saw a fireball cross through the sky. The town of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania had an even stranger experience: According to residents, a gigantic metallic object emblazoned with odd hieroglyphs crashed in their town but was quickly taken away by the government. Years later, NASA came out and said the object was a Russian satellite—but, eerily, Russian data doesn't match up with the timing of this fallen UFO.
On March 13, 1997, thousands of Arizonians (including the state's governor) saw a huge V-shaped object floating through the sky. The object changed colors and stretched almost a mile wide, and it made its way across the state before disappearing.
These are far from isolated incidents. Reports of UFO sightings date hundreds of years into BC time and span the globe. Alien sightings decreased a bit in the 21st century, but in 2019 they suddenly began spiking. That may have had something to do with the fact that the Pentagon announced it was actively investigating UFOs in May of 2019. (Of course, the government's UFO investigation has been going on since the 1940s).
Close Encounters and Abductions
Sometimes, aliens descend from their UFOs and actually attempt to make contact. This was the experience of the Sutton family in rural Kentucky, who claimed they encountered a dozen "goblins" in 1955. The family said that first they saw a light streak across the sky, and then goblins floated down from nearby trees. The family shot at them with their guns and eventually left to get a sheriff; when they returned, the creatures were gone.
In 1952, a woman named Kathleen May took her children and some neighborhood kids to investigate an object they had just watched fall from the sky. When they arrived at the site of the crash, they saw a ten-foot tall creature with glowing red eyes; it had massive hands and was making an ominous hissing noise. They fled, and all of the witnesses fell ill after the incident.
Perhaps no direct encounter with aliens has been more influential than what happened to Betty and Barney Hill in 1961. One night, the Hills were driving through New Hampshire's labyrinthine White Mountains when they realized that a peculiar light in the sky appeared to be following them. They eventually made it home to Portsmouth, though when they arrived their watches had stopped working and their shoes were scuffed—and neither of them could remember a full two hours of the previous night.
Betty and Barney Hill Abduction Casewww.youtube.com
With the aid of a psychiatrist, the couple eventually admitted what had happened: Grey creatures with bright eyes had led them into a massive metal disc. They'd examined the Hills, wiped their memory, and released them. The couple's story led to an Air Force inquiry and inspired Project Blue Book, an investigation force that focused on alien abduction reports. It also shaped alien abduction narratives for years to come. Before the Hills, most encounters with aliens had been friendly and harmless; afterwards, speculation about abductions and probes blossomed rampantly.
The couple's story also became the blueprint for a certain type of alien. Known as "greys" in UFO circles, the Hills' distinct aliens were spotted again and again over the years. This means that either dozens of people have experienced the same delusion, perhaps drawing subconscious inspiration from the Hills' story—or it means that a race of big-headed, bright-eyed, grey aliens are really descending down to Earth, investigating humans and floating back to wherever they came from, data in tow.
These aliens were spotted in another one of the most notorious cases of alien abduction ever to shake America—the story of Travis Walton. In 1971, Walton and five other forestry workers were making their way through the woods when they saw a bright light in the distance. Walton strode towards it, only to be shocked brutally by the glow. The five others ran off and reported their coworker missing. When Walton was discovered five days later, he reported that he'd been taken onto a ship and investigated by grey aliens who used some kind of gas to render him unconscious. Walton also said he met several other strangely good-looking humans, clad in blue uniforms, who conducted experiments on him in a large warehouse that appeared to be full of other flying saucers.
Mary Evans Picture Library/Everetthistory.com
Not all aliens are unfriendly and invasive mad scientists. (Perhaps, just like humans, some of them believe in harsher methods of investigation than others?) In fact, many people across time have said they've received important advice from aliens.
For example, alien abductee Jim Sparks says that he has had a long-term relationship with extraterrestrials known as the Keepers, who first appeared to him in 1988 and have since outlined steps humanity must take in order to save ourselves from self-destruction.
At first, Sparks said, the encounters were invasive, and he felt that his visitors (who appeared several times a month) were "probing through to the deepest fiber of my mind." Eventually, he decided to try and listen to what the aliens had to say.
The aliens told him that humans are "isolated" in the universe "by ignorance" and are "not ready to join the intelligent life that exists in other realms" because we're "too dangerous to be set free in the universe to do as we please." They showed Sparks video footage of beautiful scenery on Earth, then followed it with clips that showed humans destroying the natural environment. After one of these viewing sessions, a telepathic voice said, ""YOU ARE KILLING YOUR PLANET. YOUR PLANET IS DYING."
"There are better ways," Sparks was told, of "deriving your energy and food needs, without causing your planet any damage." Sparks later founded an organization dedicated to conserving forests.
Why We See Aliens
So, why do we see aliens? That's a huge question, and it's one that many psychologists and Internet conspiracy theorists have tried to figure out.
In general, psychologists conclude that the 2.5% of the American population who claim they've encountered aliens aren't actually making up what happened to them. Most people really think their stories are true, meaning that a lot of people are hallucinating or experiencing sleep paralysis…or that the aliens are actually making contact.
Some scientists blame alien abductions on humans' desire to feel special and not alone in the universe; others connect it to American exceptionalism. Still others insist it's the consequence of pareidolia, a modern incarnation of man's tendency to follow glowing blue lights in dark woods. If those old superstitions were fundamental in shaping our view of the world, then modern interactions with aliens might be a new myth, a new religion for modern times. Alien invasion "provides a language of longing for something — an angelic visitor, the complete fulfillment of our own technological potential, revelation about the nature of the universe — which remains elusive," writes Claire Coffey for The Outline. "Still, there are signs that alien belief is poised to become one of the world's ethical religions. Alien beliefs often implicate the world in wickedness and call for repentance — many accounts of alien contacts include calls for an end to war and an increase in peaceful human cooperation."
Some people choose to believe, looking beyond earthly logic and science. According to one report, one in five Americans believe that at one point or another, aliens have visited Earth. Do you?