What am I looking at?
Nobody really knows. Unofficially, it’s called Patty’s Triangle because a woman named Patty Blackburn caught it on camera on June 14, 2006, near Lansing. In 24 seconds of video, Patty captured an unexplainable triangular configuration of lights that jerked around the sky. Maybe it’s a military aircraft that nobody’s seen before, or maybe it’s extraterrestrial beings from galaxies far, far away accidentally giving Earthlings a glimpse of themselves while surveilling humankind. Those, it seems, are the two most likely options to longtime aficionados of unidentified flying objects or, as the U.S. government has rebranded them, “unidentified aerial phenomena.”
Why are you showing me this particular blur?
Mostly because, as obscured and fuzzy as it is, it’s the best available image of a UFO from a Michigan sighting. Hundreds of sightings are reported each year to the Michigan chapter of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), but the vast majority are resolved as something of clearly human origin. Patty’s Triangle is among the few that remain unexplained, says Michigan MUFON State Director Bill Konkolesky.
OK, but why should I care about something someone saw 15 years ago?
Because UFOs, once relegated to the province of crackpots, are having a big moment. The federal government, partly prompted by videos shot by U.S. Navy sailors of airborne objects moving in erratic manners that defy the understandings of modern physics, even released a report in June from the Defense Department’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force that can be summed up thus: That is, no evidence that E.T. is phoning home but no earthly ideas, either. Of 144 sightings involving military aviators, the task force was able to explain just one — it was a deflating balloon. The other 143 remain a mystery. The feds have been taking the matter seriously for more than a decade now. Then-Sen. Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, secured $22 million for UFO research in 2007, and more recently Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told 60 Minutes this spring that he wants answers, too. Last year, former CIA Director John Brennan told a podcaster these incidents “could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.” And former President Barack Obama sent speculation into hyperdrive by telling TV’s James Corden recently there are “objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.”
Whoa! Obama believes in little green men?
Not exactly. You don’t have to think a slow-moving alien invasion is underway to accept that there’s weird stuff in the air that defies explanation. But many avid ufologists — yep, that’s a legit word — reason that astronomers claim there are possibly millions of inhabitable planets and moons in the Milky Way or other galaxies. “If life happened somewhere else and they’re even just a couple hundred years more advanced than we are, they probably have the ability to visit us,” says Konkolesky, who notes MUFON officially has no position on the existence of extraterrestrial sentient life. Either way, Konkolesky says interest from credible leaders makes the topic “a lot easier to talk about now. Some neighbors and family members who used to treat it with a giggle now ask with sincere interest. It takes a very short time, when you’re a dedicated, sincere UFO investigator, to conclude something really unusual and unexplainable is happening.”
What’s this Konkolesky guy’s deal, anyway?
He’s a 50-year-old father of two who works in the Academic Support Center at Oakland Community College and found a kinship when he discovered MUFON. He’s also a Michigan native who says that as a high school senior in February 1989, he and some buddies saw a blue football-shaped, car-sized ball of light the height of two telephone poles arching over their Chevette. Then it morphed into a display of white lights that “ping-ponged all over the sky,” followed by a red ball of light the size of a full moon. “We all saw the same thing,” he says. “It took a few years for me to find a group that actually investigates such things.”
Are there lots of UFO sightings in Michigan?
Michigan’s MUFON chapter received 2,789 sightings from 2010 to 2020, of which 80 to 95 percent turned out to have easy, earthly explanations, Konkolesky says. In 2019, for instance, a third of the reports turned out to be sightings of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, a stream of thousands of machines floating in a line in low-Earth orbit that aims to provide low-cost internet access the world over. There are four still-unexplained sightings that stand out — a 1953 sighting of disc-shaped objects darting across Lake Superior over the Soo Locks; a cluster of sightings in 1966 in which “many hundreds of witnesses” saw UFOs across southeastern Michigan, capped by a claim by a Dexter man of a landing in his backyard; a 1975 incident in which people at four Air Force bases where nuclear weapons were stored around the U.S., including Wurtsmith in Iosco County, saw a white disc descend for a bit before flitting off; and a 1994 sighting outside Grand Rapids that prompted a flood of calls to 911 and front-page coverage in the Detroit newspapers.