Conspiracy theories aside, moving lights in the sky that aren't aircraft, satellites, stars or planets and ethereal creatures that reportedly visit people while they are sleeping may be more than products of over-active imaginations, say two local detectives of unexplained phenomena.
A healthy dose of skepticism is important to bring to the job but so is an open mind, Niskayuna resident Raymond Cecot said.
Cecot is co-founder of Independent Researchers Association for Anomalous Phenomena in Niskayuna.
This time of year, the most common sightings are reported by people who mistake stationary stars or planets as moving objects.
"Right now the night skies are crystal clear. Low stars or planets will appear to twinkle from radiational cooling from the Earth. I ask them if they saw the light the night before or the following night, and if they answer yes to either we can pretty much rule out a UFO," he said.
IRAAP is a non-profit organization founded in 1997 that investigates a variety of phenomena, including Unidentified Flying Objects, crop formations, cattle mutilations, Big Foot and others.
While there are cases of sightings and close encounters that Cecot and his colleagues have easily dismissed, there are also those they have not.
Cecot, a former member of the Mutual UFO Network, a national organization based in Maryland, worked closely with state MUFON director Jim Bouck for many years.
If the truth is out there they want to find it.
A rash of UFO sightings in Stillwater in Saratoga County and Cairo in Greene County were called into MUFON in the early 1990s. Cecot and Bouck conducted interviews and made some startling findings.
"There were many sightings of moving lights in the sky over Stillwater and in Greene County around that time. One person in particular was so terrified by his experience that he and his wife moved out of their home in Cairo the following day," Cecot said.
The man reportedly was walking his dog on farmland one night when he saw what he thought was a small plane flying over a mountain in the distance. The object then made an abrupt turn and came toward him. When it was about 100 feet away and 25 feet off the ground, it exploded, lighting up the entire field. He and his dog ran home and called MUFON to report the incident.
Cecot arrived at the scene that same night only to find that the man, his wife and their family pet had sought refuge elsewhere. He met up with them the following day and learned that they intended to move out of the area because of the incident.
There was no physical evidence of anything extra-terrestrial. If there had been, Cecot and Bouck would have sent it away for analysis.
"We use scientific methods when we conduct an investigation. If there are physical traces we gather the evidence and submit it to a lab for analysis," he said.
Bouck recalls another incident in Stillwater on Oct. 7, 1994. At 10 p.m. a teenaged girl called to report seeing as many as 12 UFOs over her home and said they were still there. Bouck and Cecot hurried to the site to find more than a dozen people standing on the girl's lawn staring at the sky. They appeared to be looking at nothing more than stars, but when interviewed, they revealed that the pinpoints of light had danced through the sky, joining in triangular formations and then melting out of sight.
By the time the investigation was completed - more than two weeks later - Cecot and Bouck had spoken to 30 witnesses from across the area.
"These were all credible witnesses. Though we didn't see what they did that night, we didn't discount their accounts," he said.
Interestingly, a neighbor's cat had frantically scratched at the girl's front door earlier that evening, begging to come inside. It got the girl's attention and brought her outside and that's when she spied the unusual moving lights in the sky directly overhead, Bouck said.
In December 1998, Bouck and Cecot received a call from a family in Schenectady about a ghostly nighttime visitor.
The woman woke up at 3 a.m. to find a short, black silhouette standing beside her bed. When interviewed she couldn't recall anything more about the incident. But what really caught the attention of Bouck and Cecot was the fact that later that night her son ran into his parents' bedroom visibly shaken. He said he'd seen a small, black man walk out of his closet through the closed door. The boy had no way of knowing about his mother's similar experience.
"That association for me calls to mind 'the greys,' or three-foot-tall, dark-skinned aliens that are mentioned in alien abductions," Bouck said.
Bouck reportedly has gotten calls from staff at Albany International Airport about strange sightings on radar, he said.
Meteorologists have had their share of unusual calls, National Weather Service Meteorologist Bob Kilpatrick said.
Over the years he has been asked to check out sightings on Doppler radar. The technology that meteorologists use is designed to register reflectivity in the atmosphere, not unusual air traffic, he said.
The possibility that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is a logical assumption to make, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor of Physics and Applied Astronomy Heidi Newberg said.
"I don't think they've landed here yet, though," she said.
Newberg admitted that it's important to keep an open mind. Her own colleagues doubted she could accurately measure the rate at which the universe was expanding when she set out to do that in graduate school.
"We expected to find it was decelerating and it turned out that the universe is expanding at a faster and faster rate," Newberg said.
She used Dark Energy Physics to prove her findings, which defied the laws of existing physics models.
"I think mainstream science is concerned about whether the processes that are being used to investigate UFOs are truly scientific. I think there are legitimate researchers out there looking into this," she said.