The truth may or may not be out there, but more than 1,000 Canadians appear to be looking for it.
According to the 2013 Canadian UFO Survey, there were 1,180 sightings of unidentified flying objects last year, the second-highest number since the survey began 25 years ago. The highest number of sightings was 1,981, recorded in 2012.
Chris Rutkowski, a Winnipegger who is with Ufology Research and edited the survey, said the numbers have trended up through the years, with 141 reported in 1989.
Two of the most interesting UFO incidents in the survey happened in Manitoba:
- Sept. 27, 2013, 8:51 p.m., Winnipeg. An air-traffic controller was driving on Brookside Boulevard when he saw four lights in a v-shaped formation moving together. The witness said the lights were 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the ground and slowly heading northwest. The witness said no aircraft beacon was seen.
- Sept. 28, 2013, 8:13 p.m., Portage la Prairie. A former helicopter pilot and two other people saw about 50 orange lights in pairs flying in the southwest sky and heading north. The lights were seen for at least five minutes.
Source: Ufology Research's 2013 Canadian UFO Survey
"I think it's a combination of reasons. More people are aware of things up in the sky and they are puzzling about them," he said.
Highlights of the report include:
-- 65 of the UFO sightings were in Manitoba.
-- Winnipeg recorded the third-highest number of UFO sightings among cities, with 39.
-- There have been 13,786 reported UFO sightings in Canada since 1989, with 1,075 in Manitoba.
Rutkowski said there were an average of about three sightings per day across the country, with the typical one lasting about 13 minutes.
While Rutkowski said more than half of all sightings are "simple lights in the sky," some are definite shapes.
Rutowski said he has an answer to UFO critics who question why there aren't more photos and videos of sightings. "Have you seen pictures taken at night of things in the sky? These are practically useless."
Among last year's sightings, three were classified in the category C3 or "close encounters of the third kind," because people reported seeing actual extraterrestrials. Another three were listed under C4, "close encounters of the fourth kind," described as alien abductions or having alien contact.
The survey said some witnesses were "pilots, police and other individuals with reasonably good observing capabilities and good judgment."
A few of what the report calls its most reliable and strange "unknowns" include the one involving two children out sledding in Musquodoboit, N.S., on Jan. 8, 2013. The children told their parents they heard a beeping noise before seeing what looked like a flying hotel, a massive structure with protrusions and windows. It flew over a nearby house and vanished.
Rutkowski said this sighting struck him as sincere. "The kids remained true to their story even while the RCMP were talking to them... It's quite likely that they did see something. The question is what?"
Another interesting sighting came from a retired helicopter pilot, who said he watched at least 50 orange, round lights flying in pairs across the sky in Portage la Prairie on Sept. 28.
"I've always been a UFO skeptic and yet I saw those lights," said the senior. "I allow the possibility that there is something out there."
Scott Young, the Manitoba Museum's manager of science communication and visitor experiences, said what the numbers really show is how many people look at the sky.
"We get a couple of hundred calls a year," Young said. "Almost every day we get a call and usually there is a clump of them. Usually it will turn out to be a clear night and Venus will be positioned right -- it's almost always something we can quickly identify."
Young said there are three explanations of what people see when they look up: normal astronomical phenomena such as planets and meteors, aircraft-related and Chinese paper lanterns.
He said an example in the last few days of something believed to be a UFO, which was videoed by a person near the Trans-Canada Highway east of Brandon, couldn't be explained by the person who took the video.
"Ironically, it's because more people are taking pictures of them and with more pictures I know what they are -- I knew immediately this was parachute flares during an exercise (at CFB Shilo)," Young said.
Rutkowski said the Brandon video doesn't hurt the argument for UFOs. "It does show the person wasn't making it up -- it wasn't a hoax, it was a misinterpretation."
-- with Canadian Press files