PENNSYLVANIA — A global pandemic, social unrest, and a looming historic and controversial election may have the general public looking with increasing credulity at sights in the night sky. Or, 2020 thus far is just the tip of the iceberg.

Skygazers have reported a huge increase of unidentified flying objects seen in the state thus far this year. Already, 209 unexplained flying crafts or lights seen in the state have been logged with the National UFO Reporting Center.

In almost all of 2019, only 63 were seen.

The sightings include bright lights, strange sounds and oddly shaped objects. In some instances the "visitors" in the night sky are cause for a kind of wonder, and yet more see signs of nefarious intent in the mystery.

But for some, the sightings seem to inspire a genuine curiosity about the origins of these objects, or at least a skepticism that they can easily be explained away. One night in early August out in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, a college student and digital forensics major had a transformative experience.


The witness, who was out to see a meteor shower, described a "ball" with red, green, and white flashing lights that was moving irregularly with "truly unbelievable speed" back and forth from its original position.

"We were both very, very skeptical of any kind of alien or supernatural entities to say the least; however this experience has changed our minds considerably," the witness reports. "I have dealt with technology all my life and have always had an interest in the viewing of celestial events. I can honestly say I have never ever seen anything like this."

Nationwide, there have been thousands of witness accounts of UFOs submitted to the center.

UFO hunting has been a popular pursuit in the United States since the mid-20th century, when Kenneth Arnold, a businessman piloting a small plane, filed the first well-known report in 1947 of a UFO over Mount Rainier in Washington. Arnold claimed he saw nine high-speed, crescent-shaped objects zooming along at several thousand miles per hour "like saucers skipping on water."

Although the objects Arnold claimed to see weren't saucer-shaped at all, his analogy led to the popularization of the term "flying saucers." And since then, Americans have been more or less obsessed with the idea that alien life is among us.

It may be easy to scoff at some of the eyewitness accounts on the National UFO Reporting Center, but the idea of intergalactic travel got a boost when information emerged from the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, a $22 million, multi-year program that began in 2007 to investigate "unidentified aerial phenomena," according to reports by The New York Times and Politico. It suggested, in the very least, that the government was not viewing these incidents with total incredulity, and that there could be sizable gaps in our scientific understanding.

Former Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid slipped in an earmark for the program into the Pentagon budget. Nevada, of course, is the home of a U.S. Air Force facility known as Area 51, the source of multiple alien conspiracy theories, including claims that interstellar visitors are held there; that the 1947 Roswell crash wasn't a weather balloon at all but a Soviet aircraft piloted by mutated midgets; and that the 1969 moon landing was filmed by the U.S. government in one of the Area 51 hangars.

The Pentagon program was defunded in 2012. But in a report released in late 2017, the investigators detailed an account by retired Navy Cmdr. David Fravor, who was conducting a training mission off the coast of California in 2004 when he saw an oblong craft flying erratically through his airspace at incredible speed, maneuvering in a way that defies accepted principles of aerodynamics.

Fravor described the wingless object, about 40 feet long and shaped like a Tic Tac, as other-worldly.

"I can tell you, I think it was not from this world," Fravor told ABC News in 2017. "I'm not crazy, haven't been drinking. It was — after 18 years of flying, I've seen pretty much about everything that I can see in that realm, and this was nothing close."

When Fravor saw the object from the air, controllers on one of the Navy ships on the water below reported that objects were being dropped about 80,000 feet from the sky, then headed "straight back up."

He could see the disturbances on the water below and breaking waves on the surface, "like something's under the surface," he told ABC.

The radar jammed, and as Fravor flew closer, the craft rapidly accelerated and zoomed upward and disappeared. Once the object was gone, the ocean below was a still sheet of blue with no evidence of disturbance. Infrared scanning also showed no evidence of an exhaust trail, he said.

"I don't know what it is," he said. "I don't know what I saw. I just know it was really impressive, really fast, and I would like to fly it."\

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