A number of years ago Virginia Stringfellow of Rochester said that extraterrestrial beings took her from her suburban yard, a story kept mostly within a close-knit community of people who have encountered UFOs.

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Her monthly locals-only UFO meetups 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...but that group has consistently grown.

“I have to turn away people,” said Stringfellow, 75.

Sightings of unidentified objects in 2020 nearly doubled in New York, to about 300, from the previous year according to data compiled by the National UFO Reporting Center, or NUFORC. They also rose nationwide, to more than 7,200 sightings.

But according to ufologists (pronounced “yoof-ologists”), the trend is not necessarily the result of an alien invasion. Rather, it was probably caused in part by the coronavirus.

Grounded by lockdown restrictions, many found themselves with more time to look up.  About a quarter of the reports nationally came in March and April of last year, when lockdowns were at their most strict.

But there is another reason that the public might be newly receptive to the idea that something 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.

Additionally, a $2.3 trillion appropriations package signed late last year by then-President Donald Trump includes a provision that the secretary of defense and director of national intelligence collaborate on a UFO 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 NUFORC director Peter Davenport. Previously, he said, the government appeared to have believed “that people like me are just crazy — and we’re not.”

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 into the reporting center are swiftly determined to be things such as birds, bats, satellites, planes, and drones, he said.

“A skilled UFO investigator is one of the most skeptical people around,” Davenport said.

Only a small fraction of reports scrutinized by NUFORC, based in Washington state, are truly not identifiable.

In New York, as city dwellers trying to escape Coronavirus by relocating to the countryside, have driven up rural sightings, said Chris DePerno, assistant director of the New York state branch of the Mutual UFO Network.

“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 DePerno, a retired police detective. “With the COVID thing, more people are looking up.”

But for a 65-year-old retired New York State Park Police officer from Granville who asked not to be named because he worried about going public with his belief in UFOs and extraterrestrial life. The lingering fear of ridicule may be suppressing the true numbers of UFO sightings, he suggested; there might, in fact, be more out there.

He urged city folks to stay calm should they see a UFO, 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.

If enough people report UFOs when they see them, he said, the world will believe they are telling the truth.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.



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