Maybe we were never alone. A French UFO expert believes our first experiences with aliens may have occurred centuries ago. Though 90% of ancient reports of baffling sky sightings can be explained away, several others are "provocative" enough to merit further study, says Jacques Valle, who inspired the character of the UFO expert in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's even possible folklore about elves and angels was initially connected to alien encounters, he adds. "It's a big universe out there. Many astronomers— including myself —strongly believe that there is life throughout the cosmos," he tells MSNBC.
More contemporary sightings are well beyond the "giggle factor," notes Valle, who has written a new book on historic reports and depictions, and involve hundreds of reliable witnesses. "There is a reaction of ridicule simply because we don't know what it is," he adds. Valle believes governments typically keep many UFO reports hidden. "We know there is data," says Valle, who works with experts in the French equivalent of NASA. "All of us who investigate this have spoken to pilots and radar operators who said that after a sighting, a couple of people in blue jeans showed up with some identification from somewhere and confiscated the tapes or the film—and no one ever saw them again." (Read more Jacques Valle stories.)