The existence of humankind — at its most basic level — consists of clinging to a big blue ball in the middle of a vast dark void with very little understanding in regards to what it all means. As we look to define it, the only respite our species has at grasping the nature of existence is science, which has lead to some game-changing breakthroughs in the last century.
One discovery that has opened the minds and imaginations of the masses was finding out that there is an infinite number of galaxies, stars and other space phenomena beyond our little corner of the universe. What that basically means is that the possibilities are endless, and keeping an open mind is the key to broadening our understanding of it all.
Case in point:
The debate over the existence of aliens and UFOs. According to a 2015 National Geographic survey conducted in the U.S., 77 per cent of Americans believe there are signs that aliens have visited Earth at some point. And last month, an Angus Reid poll revealed that four out of five Canadians believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.
One of the first documented (and debated) UFO sightings was from the ancient Egyptians, and is now commonly known as the Tulli Papyrus. Another example was in 214 BC when there was a historical reference to "ships in the sky" made by Titus Livius, a historian at the time.
Events like these are documented throughout every age of human history. Modern-day sightings are also very common to the point that vast agencies — governmental and otherwise — have been created to hear witness accounts of UFOs.
One well-documented event was in 1981 when famous Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, while climbing in the Himalayas, claimed he witnessed for nearly three hours a UFO that was "the size of a full moon."
"It was moving very slowly," said Messner during an interview after the perceived close encounter. "It moved eastward and then went again southwest and drifted finally north into Tibet. It could not be a satellite because they move in an elliptical manner, the movements of this object were irregular." Messner's climbing partner at the time, a British schoolteacher named Doug Scott, also saw the object as did another expedition that was nearby.
ALIENS BY THE NUMBERS
In Canada, there were 1,267 reported UFO sightings across the country in 2015 — or about three or four a day. Last year had the second-highest number of UFO sightings recorded in Canada during the last 30 years, second only to 1,981 reports in 2012 during what was dubbed "the end of the world" at the culmination of the Mayan calendar. There were 1,180 reports in 2013 and 1,021 reports in 2014.
There are many experts who try to make sense of it all. Chris Rutkowski is a popular science writer with degrees in astronomy and education who researches the annual Canadian UFO Report, which was released in April this year. The report details encounters with the unknown or, in this case, the unidentified. In an email, Rutkowski says there were 244 reports of sightings in B.C. in 2015. "The numbers have been going down (in B.C.) since a high of 399 in 2012," he says. "That downward trend is against the national trend, which has increasing reports every year."
One group dedicated to UFO sightings worldwide and all alien-related encounters is the American-based Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), which has been in existence since 1969, has a chapter in every U.S. state and more than 3,000 members on our planet (and perhaps a few on some others). MUFON's mandate is to investigate any and all claims of UFO sightings and record the details of the events.
Roger Marsh is the Communications Director for MUFON and he says that there are many reported cases of people camping, mountain-climbing, hiking and partaking in a host of other outdoor activities who see a UFO of some kind. He was able to provide several recent cases for examination.
One such case took place on July 29 this year at approximately 11:30 p.m. The skies were described by the witnesses as "crystal clear." Two friends were camping near Mt. Jefferson in Oregon and brought a couple of lawn chairs for star-gazing. On their first night, nothing out of the ordinary happened, they simply sat under the stars and experienced the grandeur and glory of the universe around them.
The second night was a different story.
As the two witnesses sat comfortably, one of the men pointed out what he thought was a satellite. He then quickly saw a second object that looked exactly the same and seemed to be moving in tandem.
The lights maintained an identical distance from each other as if they were part of a larger structure, like lights on opposite ends of airplane wings. It was not an airplane however, as it was close enough that a sound would have been heard by the two men. Whatever this was, it was completely quiet.
Suddenly the lights did a complete U-turn and quickly disappeared behind a group of tall trees in the distance. These manoeuvres would not be possible by a typical aircraft. As the two men sat and discussed what they saw, 10 minutes passed and it seemed as if the UFO had gone. But just as quickly as it disappeared, the lights reemerged from behind the tall trees and one of the men called out "there it is again!"
The object continued to drift in the night sky, masked by darkness and making no sound at all. The two men watched in a similar silence, enveloped by fascination and curiosity.
Suddenly the lights flew high in the sky almost directly overhead and one of the men saw a fine outline around one of the lights that seemed like it was part of a much larger craft of some kind. Ten seconds later, the object quickly flew behind the same group of trees, not to be seen again.
SEARCHING FOR THE TRUTH
Experiences with UFOs are common outside of North America, despite what Hollywood would have us believe. One such incident, for example, occurred in Costa Rica back on Feb. 24 this year. Two people were near the Irazu volcano at 11:06 a.m. when they saw a saucer-shaped object hovering above one of the mountains near the volcano. They took a couple of photos and upon examination, some kind of round object can in fact be seen as described.
Stories like these are quite common for MUFON, which investigates and interviews whomever they can in an effort to either find the truth or debunk the mystery. At the end of each case report that MUFON publishes, there is a disclaimer that reads "most UFO sightings can be explained as something natural or man-made." While this is true, there are unexplainable accounts from people all over the world — and even some from respected government officials.
Take Paul Hellyer for example. He is arguably one of the most respected politicians in Canadian history. Hellyer became involved in politics in 1949 and worked his way through the ranks to become Canada's minister of national defence from 1963 to 1967.
In 2005, Hellyer publicly announced at an exopolitics conference in Toronto that he believed in the existence of UFOs. He went on to add that he had seen a UFO one night with his wife and some friends. Later that year, Hellyer announced he had been undertaking research of his own on extra-terrestrials, and he'd even contacted a retired U.S. Air Force general who corroborated some of his accounts. Hellyer also told several news publications that at least four species of aliens have been visiting Earth for thousands of years, and he publicly admonished world leaders for concealing evidence of the presence of aliens.
So what do the science experts think about all this? Pique contacted NASA, whose response was they don't comment on speculative issues. The Canadian Space Agency, however, responded: "Finding signs of life in the universe is one of the goals of the international planetary exploration community. Missions such as ESA's Exomars 2020 and NASA's Mars 2020 aim to find signs of microbial life on the red planet, however to this day, nowhere has life been positively detected."
The government stance that there has been no life discovered — other than the life on our planet — has been the go-to response ever since modern-day societies started claiming to see objects in the sky. But to those who witness these sightings and — even more so for the people who believe they have had a close encounter with an alien — the experience is real.
'LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL'
Marsh is one of those individuals who cites encounters beyond a flying disk. It is no coincidence that he is one of the top people at MUFON.
"Before I was born in 1953, in the middle of the night my mother had gotten up to use the bathroom and she looked out the bedroom window, which faced the street. There was a gas station across the street and there was a disk UFO hovering over the gas station."
Marsh went on to add that his father saw the object as well but his parents kept it to themselves: His father was a successful businessman and was leery of repercussions if he mentioned what they'd seen.
When Marsh was older, the number of UFO sightings in southwestern Pennsylvania suddenly increased, as did sightings in many pockets throughout the U.S.
"You went from one UFO sighting a month to hundreds per week. This was from January 1973 to about January 1974," he says.
Marsh's family connected with Stan Gordon, who was the prominent UFO expert in the area, and Marsh's father started volunteering with Gordon. The younger Marsh would tag along on investigations. And one night, something spectacular happened.
"I was in my family neighbourhood just after dark, about six blocks from my house. Somebody pointed down the street and said 'what is that?' It was a disk UFO about the width of a two-lane street." Marsh says that the object was moving very slowly, coming right down the street towards them.
"There were 10 to 12 kids and other parents raking leaves and things. There were several hundred witnesses. It went directly over me without a sound."
The UFO flew away as people from the street gathered on a neighbour's front lawn to talk about what they all saw, and then suddenly the craft came back. "It was at a distance but moved into our airspace and hovered." The craft then did several movements that looked like aerial acrobatics. Marsh added that it almost looked like the craft was putting on a show for the locals.
Just as quickly, the sound of two military jets came into the sky and then the UFO darted away "like a bat out of hell," says Marsh.
As if that weren't climactic enough, 30 minutes later the exact same thing happened. The UFO flew in right over these people, did aerial acrobatics and then when the sound of military jets were heard, it took off. The craft was seemingly taunting the military.
Marsh goes on to add that governments clearly know that these phenomena exist, but continue to deny it. However, MUFON gathers much of its information from retired military personnel who are willing to talk about their experiences.
"What you will hear on a day-to-day basis is that the government does not study UFOs and they have nothing to do with it, but almost on a daily basis the military is telling MUFON what is going on behind the scenes."
Marsh's story becomes more interesting when he is asked if he has ever had a close encounter with what could potentially be piloting these crafts. "I am one of thousands and thousands of people around the world who went through the abduction process. It happened to me between the ages of five to 16."
Marsh is well aware that there are many skeptics who would have the knee-jerk reaction to say that he's full of it. "What I say is: It doesn't really matter whether my abduction experience was real or imagined. The result of what happened to me has carried over into my life and has been a part of my entire life."
Marsh says that during the abductions, smaller creatures who are up to one-metre tall take you to a ship where you meet much taller beings that look similar to the now popularized image of an alien, also known as a Grey.
He describes how these aliens took him from his bedroom by floating him up to the ceiling and then suddenly he found himself in a different room. "It was a round room, dimly lit. [I was] lying on a cold metallic table." Marsh says at that point he was not communicating with anyone until the Greys came in and then they talk to you telepathically.
"When these sessions were over, I would always wake up — never back in my room — I was always somewhere else in the house and my nose was bleeding. I mean gushing."
Stories and experiences like Marsh's are common, with similar accounts of each occurrence.
Whether or not these aliens exist or the objects witnessed in the sky are really from outer space, those who have seen and experienced them say they are life-changing events. And it makes them question the nature of their existence.
Over the last several decades, the Ohio-based SETI program — Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence — has developed into a formidable exercise in the hunt for potential life beyond our galactic neighbourhood. In its simplest form, it is an exercise that involves the use of a series of telescopes and the analysis of radio signals to monitor electromagnetic radiation for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Most of the time, these signals have turned up nothing out of the ordinary. But in August this year, Russian scientists detected a mysterious signal from a galaxy 94 light years away.
Experts are still investigating what this signal could be, but nevertheless it will no doubt further humankind's insatiable curiosity for life out there somewhere.
If UFO watching is something you want to take up as a hobby, there are numerous online resources to assist you. But to see a UFO first-hand, you need to be outside. So whether you find yourself hiking, mountain climbing or camping, make sure you look to the sky.
Perhaps the next thing you see won't be a bird, or a plane.
Jon Hiltz is a full-time journalist and hopes never to be abducted by anything or anyone. You can check to make sure he's still okay at https://twitter.com/jon_hiltz.
UFO sightings are reported weekly. Here are some of the latest that can be found on www.ufobc.ca, which is a not-for-profit agency whose mandate is to investigate any UFO sightings in B.C. and the Yukon.
May 31, 2016: Vancouver, midnight
A witness saw seven or eight orb-like lights, orange and red in colour hanging over Sunset Beach. They were moving in strange patterns, would go up very high and then seemingly fade out of vision. The event lasted 20 minutes and was captured on video.
June 12, 2016: Surrey, 11 p.m.
A woman witnessed a large, spherical craft with lights around its periphery. It was visible through thin cloud cover over Green Timbers Forest. She said the object appeared to be massive. It moved a little, but unlike any conventional aircraft. It slowly ascended away until the object was no longer visible.
June 22, 2016: Courtenay, 3:05 p.m.
One witness, his wife and her friend were working in the backyard. They were birdwatching and noticed a distant glint in an otherwise clear blue sky. Whatever it was, it had a pulsating, orange-coloured light that seemingly got brighter, then dimmer.
The witnesses used some technical equipment that allowed for a higher resolution for bird-watching, and saw a silverfish-shaped object with no visible wings of any kind. It appeared to be flipping continuously as it moved.
During this period, two Air Canada jets were seen at about 9,000 metres by the witnesses, who say the object was significantly higher than that. They called the local air force base, which reported that they had no aircraft in the air space at that time.
After 45 minutes, the object flew off and faded into the distance.
Aug. 6, 2016: Vernon, 10:30 p.m.
A man and his mother were in the field of a secondary school watching a distant thunderstorm. They saw an orange orb the size of a half moon. The orb became larger and started to move up and down in the sky at a slow pace. It then quickly shot up high, and its lights blinked, almost like the light was being turned on and off.
The orange orb then turned into two small white lights that continued to move around sporadically and blink on and off. The lights then shot upward very quickly and disappeared.