CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) - Last Sunday night, an Indian Trail man's wife excitedly burst into their house to report two orange, glowing balls that seemed to hover a few hundred feet overhead.
The man, who reported the incident to the Mutual UFO Network, wrote that he and his grandson headed outside to see a single ball hovering silently above them. Less than a minute later, a group of three balls appeared.
"My first thought was Chinese lanterns but they would have been very, very large, small plane or helicopter size, and defying wind patterns," wrote the man, who MUFON would not identify. "The light source was much much brighter than a candle. With the binoculars it appeared spherical with a red beam coming out of the yellow-orange glow that the whole sphere was giving off.
"Any idea what we were watching?"
More and more, says the venerable Scientific American, scientists are seriously seeking answers to that question. In a piece posted Tuesday, the magazine declares 2017 "a banner year for scientists seeking aliens – even though they (apparently) didn't find any."
It's not that scientists delight in crushing the belief that aliens are among us, the article states. They instead demand clear evidence to support an extraordinary claim. Yet some scientists acknowledge the slight possibility of extraterrestrial explanations for some recent observations.
Just last month, a self-described UFO investigator posted a YouTube video that suggests a group of alien aircraft were recently seen hovering over Spring Lake, North Carolina, about two hours east of Charlotte. The video got nearly 70,000 views within two days of being posted.
Editor Mary Joyce said the website grew out of photos taken by an 8-year-old in the mountain community of Cashiers that appeared to show a saucer-shaped silhouette against the sun. Since then, Joyce said, UFO sightings have been reported all over Jackson County.
Joyce said public officials and academics scoff at such accounts even if, she adds, they privately acknowledge them.
"The ones that want to get the information out kind of tiptoe around. They're not going to lightly do this," she said. "The people who are really, really aware of what's going on regarding UFOs have actually feared for their lives.... These people have real reasons to be fearful if they know stuff. The (scientists) at the college level, they don't know squat."
Official Washington also appears to have taken an interest in probing the potential for alien encounters.
In a story line that could have been borrowed from the "X-Files," the New York Times reported in December on a secretive Defense Department program, shut down in 2012, that investigated UFO sightings. The program was largely funded at the request of former Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The program and the aerospace company it hired "produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift," the Times reported.