When an alien aircraft hovers over your house, you'll want to talk to someone about it.
For the past 43 years, that's been one of the main functions of the National UFO Reporting Center. It's served as a hotline for skeptics and believers: If you look up and see something strange, they'll meticulously take your story.
Peter Davenport has served as the center's director since 1994, managing sighting reports through the website and the 24-hour hotline, and posting updates to the charmingly low-tech NUFORC database. People who report UFOs "quest to speak with someone who will believe what they have to say," he said.
He told me, over a series of emails, what NUFORC does and why it does it. Serving as a listening ear is one half of the job. Presenting those stories as publicly-available reports is the other. People should have access to information about extraterrestrial activity, "without having to rely on a government which is lying to all of us about the UFO phenomenon."
Davenport estimates out of the tens of thousands of people who witness a true Unidentified Flying Object in their lifetimes, very few will take the time to report it. Right now, they receive between 10-20 written reports in a day through the website. But those sightings are going up.
Most are "serious-minded attempts to describe some type of object that the witness was unable to identify himself." Some are bound to have mundane explanations, such as routine rocket launches, meteors, high-altitude balloons and the like. Terrestrial false alarms.
Davenport said the most reliable reports involve multiple witnesses who corroborate each other's sightings. Photographic or radar evidence certainly helps. Following up with a witness is also an important due-diligence. In many of the reports listed on NUFORC's database, Davenport has noted the tone of the witness (if it's a phone conversation), and whether or not they seemed "sober" and "serious-minded." Occupation sometimes lends credibility, as well: Public servants, police officers, military veterans, airline pilots and former astronauts are among his most reliable witnesses.
An ideal example of a reliable report, he said, is the Phoenix Lights mass sighting in 1997. NUFORC was one of the few organizations that kept records and a hotline open for reports of this sighting.
I asked Davenport to show me more reports that fit this standard of sober-mindedness in the face of the inexplicable. These are his choices for the most noteworthy UFO encounters and sightings in recent memory, condensed here. The full reports are publically available by date.
"I have no explanation for what we saw."
July 5, 2013
My family and I were sitting outside. When I looked up into the sky, I saw a fairly large orange glowing orb moving rapidly overhead right about 90 degrees of elevation.
About one or two minutes later, we saw a group of three similar objects along the same flight path as the first one.
I am a retired military fighter pilot, retired commercial airline pilot and former astronaut. I have no explanation for what we saw.
"This was not like any star or planet I have ever seen in the sky before."
May 27, 2016
When the object first appeared it was very blue and very brightly illuminated, the lights weren't flickering or dimming like in typical aircraft. This was not like any star or planet I have ever seen in the sky before. The object was slightly bigger in appearance than the North Star, and emitted no sounds, and moved very smoothly, until it came to a complete stop northeast of where we were looking and positioned.
"Like ships hiding in plain sight."
Above Mt. Shasta, California
February 16, 2015
I am an airline captain... We decided to look out and up at the night sky for falling stars and or satellites passing overhead.
The stars, now obviously lights, we not in motion, they were not satellites and were not falling stars. They were as stationary as the stars in the background.
Mankind does not have craft that can fly at that altitude and not be moving.
"I can not refute what I saw today."
February 19, 2015
I looked directly out my [car] passenger window and parallel with me was a small domed craft, what appeared to be hovering, but it also stayed parallel with me as I continued to drive. It was approximately 10-15 feet above the Columbia River water, well below the Interstate and train track. There were no boats in the water and this was an obvious aircraft with an obvious shape, above the water.
This entire event was only a matter of seconds, approximately 12, but felt slow motion at the same time as I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
"I was very concerned and still am."
November 16, 2014
I was deer hunting in central Illinois.
I saw a small object come down about 4 feet in front of me. At first I glanced at it and thought it was a spider or some insect. I stared at this object for a few seconds and realized it was not an insect. This object was a round ball slightly smaller than a marble with a brownish iridescent color, like motor oil. This ball hovered in front of me at eye level, about 4 feet directly in front of me.
This troubles me as I can not think of a logical explanation for this.
"I know what I saw."
September 28, 2013
I am a retired state police officer from the state of Arizona after nearly 35 years of service.
I happened to glance out my kitchen window that faces north, and I observed some bright orange lights traveling from the west to east.
I was in awe because they just keep coming. I would estimate as many as 150 of these orange objects.
I thought "but I have video proof", and when I went to view the pictures, nothing was visible, just a black screen.
I know what I saw and unless someone has a better explanation, I feel that I was fortunate enough to see what many of us hope to see someday and will not.