Kent Senter of Burlington says he saw his first UFO at the age of 10.
Senter remembers seeing a big orange oval emitting a downward spotlight, floating over the trees in complete silence near Washington, D.C.
I had no clue what it was, he said. This thing just totally floored me.
This weekend, Senter, 59, will culminate more than 25 years of UFO investigation as he hosts the two-day Symposium on Official and Scientific Investigations of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in Greensboro.
The event aims to present an evidence-based approach to researching UFO sightings and bring some legitimacy to a field associated with science fiction movies and checkout counter tabloids. When a sighting was reported, Senter headed out to the field to gather eyewitness accounts, photographs, radar records, and any other available evidence.
Go with what you can prove, and go from there, he said in an interview about his approach to investigating UFO sightings.
Senter said he has spent tens of thousands of hours looking at the nighttime sky, and has seen only two craft the second one in Durham in the mid 1980s. Thats when he jumped into UFO research and eventually co-founded the North Carolina chapter of the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, a nationwide non-profit group focused on investigating UFO sightings.
Approximately 95 percent of UFO sightings can be logically explained, sometimes as a meteor, an airplane or Venus, Senter said.
Take, for example, the helicopter-like craft that Senter and a co-worker spotted floating over Interstate 85 during a routine security check at a hotel where they worked in Durham in the 1980s. The object then seemed to shoot across the night sky and disappear. It turned out to be a Russian satellite re-entering the atmosphere the UFO became an IFO, or identified flying object.
Senters UFO conference will feature an international lineup of former government officials and military personnel along with professors and journalists. He is most excited to hear from retired Col. Charles Halt of the U.S. Air Force who will discuss a craft sighting at a base in England in 1980.
The conference organizers are pushing the scientific research angle, rather than the bobbing alien heads so commonly associated with UFO conferences, said Senter.
But Joe Nickell warns that the line between science and imagination is fuzzy.
Nickell is a senior research fellow of the international Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, an Amherst, N.Y.-based group that promotes scientific reasoning and critical investigation of paranormal phenomena.
Quite a lot of what passes as science is pseudoscience, he said in an interview.
The evidence to support extraterrestrials based on UFO sightings is just not there, Nickell said.
MUFON has never found a single case where they have proof of an extraterrestrial visitation, he said.
Nickell also had rational explanations for many historical UFO sightings.
The wreckage found in the desert near Roswell, N.M., in 1947? It was just a secret U.S. government spy balloon array, said Nickell.
But attendees at this weekends conference can judge the intensity of the science for themselves. Conference organizers hope that presenting their evidence-based approach to UFO research will help shed the taboo associated with sightings.
What Im hoping to do with this conference is take that first step where we can address whats really happened, said Senter.
And Senter may be running out of time to spread his message. A diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, has brought new urgency for him.
One thing Ive never got to do is to hold a conference thats a serious one, he said. I want my children to know the truth. I want them to know whats going on.