“The truth,” as the tagline from “The X-Files” goes, “is out there.”
But part of the truth — or at least the search for it — is coming to your fingertips.
The Salt Lake City-based Expanding Frontiers Research has launched a UFO archive, making accessible a trove of documents — from Air Force and CIA reports to interviews with researchers and reports of paranormal sightings — spanning more than seven decades.
The entire archive is a sort of passion project for Erica Lukes, a Pilates instructor and executive director of Expanding Frontiers Research, and Jack Brewer, who is on the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Like most of us, Lukes grew up on a diet of “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and reading books about little green men. One night in 2013, she said, sitting with a friend on her patio in Millcreek overlooking the valley, she spotted something.
“I could see this bright object that appeared to hover in place for several minutes and then, it appeared to me, another one came out of that object and started moving around in a circle,” Lukes told me. She got her binoculars for a closer look and was convinced she had spotted a UFO.
So she dug in and started researching, checking airline flight paths, interviewing pilots, and studying how the eye processes reflected light. She also became, she said, an investigator and state director for the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, which investigates reported UFO sightings.
The result of that work was that Lukes is now convinced that what she saw back in 2013 was not a UFO.
In fact, she said, she has seen no convincing evidence that aliens have visited Earth. She became disenchanted with the lack of scientific rigor in the field of UFO studies. Still, she said she remains fascinated with them as historical and cultural phenomena.
Over the years, Lukes also acquired a mountain of records on the subject.
“I have 140,000 pages in the archive and maybe a handful of people have seen them,” she said. “You’d be surprised by the dynamics behind the scenes and the attempts to steer a specific narrative. I totally love it, as nerdy as it sounds.”
Books, magazines and documents have piled up in her Pilates studio. There are letters and memos sent by government officials, like the late Sen. Barry Goldwater, a believer in aliens, and case files containing drawings of reported sightings obtained through public records requests. Lukes also has collected and curated the work and notes of other prominent UFO researchers. UFO researcher Barry Greenwood, for example, sent Lukes’ group a terabyte of information.
“Even if I’ve changed my opinion on this, to me it’s one of the most fascinating subjects I’ve ever looked into,” she said.
Lukes is convinced that curiosity about UFOs has been used — by governments, or people looking to make a buck — to manipulate people.
“You can go into the archive and see how the government can use the UFO narrative to obfuscate things or push people in a different direction,” she said. “And also you have the cultural impact of how things like ‘The X-Files’ impact a generation.”
The timing of the archive launch couldn’t be much better, with interest in space visitors piqued by a U.S. House of Representatives hearing in July on the unexplained phenomenon and, just last week, a bizarre legislative hearing in Mexico where the purported mummified remains of two alien bodies were put on display.
The mission of Expanding Frontiers Research, though, has nothing to do with convincing anyone that little green men are real.
“Our archive is one of the few in the world where we don’t really care about promoting the UFO belief. We just want them to understand the history of the topic,” Lukes said.
If you go to the archive today, only a portion of the records are available. With so much information, building the archive will be an ongoing process. It is a mountain of material to wade through.
But maybe the truth is in there.